The Stanford connection is alive and well with the Indianapolis Colts.
During last year’s NFL draft, the Colts added quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Coby Fleener. Not too long after the draft, wide receiver Grriff Whalen joined in. Safety Delano Howell, meanwhile, was signed by Indianapolis in late November after spending most of the season with the Buffalo Bills.
Luck, Fleener, Whalen and Howell were all teammates in college. This past offseason, former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was hired to the same job with the Colts.
Hamilton replaced former Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who is now the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach. He was in charge of Stanford’s offense during Luck’s final season at Palo Alto.
The pairing of Luck and Hamilton worked wonders in 2011, with the quarterback completing 288 of 404 passes for 3,517 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He accounted for 3,667 total yards.
With Hamilton calling plays and Luck throwing the football, Fleener hauled in 34 passes for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. Whalen, meanwhile, added 56 receptions for 749 yards and four TDs.
Can the Colts expect similar results in 2013? Maybe. The system that Hamilton is installing in Indianapolis will certainly be a familiar one to Luck, Fleener and Whalen.
“It will be a variation of it,” Hamilton said in late January when he was first hired as Arians’ replacement. “Short passing game, high completion rate. But I enjoy watching our guys coming off the ball and trying to knock the opponent back.
“I’m a big believer in the power-running game, I believe that opens it up for your passing game. I want to be flexible schematically in that we find ways to get the ball into playmakers’ hands.”
In the seven intervening months, the installation of the so-called “No Coast” offense appears to be right on schedule.
“Our guys have been really receptive at understanding that you’re going to have to study and put the time in to learn the details of our offense. Our offense is predicated on not wasting plays. We have to be very detailed and exact in everything we do,” the former Howard University quarterback said earlier this week.
“We want to be efficient but at the same time, we want to score points and score a lot of points. Our guys, they’ve worked their tails off over the course of the offseason to prepare themselves both mentally and physically to be ready to do whatever it takes for us to score touchdowns.”
• Ground Chuck — Whatever term is used in an attempt to describe the Colts’ offensive philosophy, it will continue to be a precision attack — both throwing and running with the football.
“I think our system is predicated on being detailed and exact. We’re going to pride ourselves on not wasting plays and capitalizing on all opportunities, not just big-play opportunities,” Hamilton noted.
“We feel like a big-play opportunity for us is a third-and-goal. It’s going to be fun to really get back on the grass [during training-camp practices] and really zero in on the things that we need to do to be good, to be efficient and to be successful as an offensive unit.”
If there’s one thing that Indianapolis coaches — namely head coach Chuck Pagano and Hamilton — want to make clear, the Colts aspire to more than just being a finesse team on offense.
“I’m saying being effective at both [running and passing]. Being able to run the football when it’s necessary but at the same time, understanding that we got to make big plays in the passing game. Our run game sets up our passing game and vice versa,” the first-year coordinator said.
• Expectations for Luck — Despite their history together and Luck’s success as a rookie a year ago, Hamilton knows that there’s certainly plenty of room for growth by the franchise quarterback.
Cutting down on the amount of turnovers (fumbles and interceptions) and staying in the pocket top the to-do list. Despite Luck’s success at scrambling for first downs and touchdowns last season, he also risked getting hurt.
“We’re going to really focus on making sure that he’s able to manage bad plays. When a play breaks down, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to have to take off, run, extend the play and run for the first down. We want him to be able to find his checkdown,” the coordinator explained.
“We want him to be able to maintain balance in the pocket and stay loaded. Stay in the throwing position and go through his progressions and find his checkdown. Get the ball to the guys that are paid to run with the football and not take all the big hits that he took last year. We’re really going to focus on his footwork. But, at the same time, we got to re-acclimate Andrew to a progression-style offense. A big part of that is fundamentals.”
• Fleener, Whalen excelling — The Colts second-year tight end got off to a sluggish start as a rookie last season, battling injuries and inconsistency.
Fleener, however, started to come around, performance-wise, toward the midway point of the season. He finished 2012 with 26 catches for 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Through the first four training-camp practices, the Joliet, Ill., native is miles ahead of last year’s pace.
“Probably having the most productive camp, including his time at Stanford, that I’ve seen,” Hamilton voiced. “In the time that I’ve been around Coby, he’s a lot more explosive and confident right now and he’s making plays that big-time NFL players tend to make.”
Earlier this week, Pagano called Fleener a potential “matchup nightmare” for opposing defenses. The coordinator agrees.
“Absolutely. [He is] 6-6, 250 pounds and he runs as fast as wide receivers. So it’s probably a good chance that he’ll have an opportunity to run past a few safeties,” Hamilton said.
As for Whalen, the 5-foot-10, 197-pound receiver is also trending upward. He missed the 2012 season after suffering a foot injury during the preseason, the same issue that sidelined him during rookie mini-camp and that hindered his performance at times while in college.
Whalen’s fortunes, thus far in training camp, has been much, much better.
“I’m excited about Griff,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been watching Griff play football since he was 19 years old and he’s having a good camp so far. He still has a ways to go, but we’re excited about Griff.”
• Injury list — Colts Wednesday injury list: defensive tackle Kellen Heard (illness), cornerback Greg Toler (concussion), inside linebacker Mario Harvey (hamstring) and wide receiver LaVon Brazill (abdomen).
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton rolled his left ankle midway through the afternoon workout but did not miss a play. Nose tackle Martin Tevasue (shoulder) tried to practice but was sidelined early on.
Inside linebacker Pat Angerer (foot), running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), defensive tackle Fili Moala (knee), safety Sergio Brown (hamstring), rookie offensive guard Hugh Thornton (ankle) and rookie center Khaled Holmes (ankle) remained sidelined.