News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 26, 2012

Luck may be ready to go from start

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Talk about walking into a pressure-packed situation. If the Indianapolis Colts do the expected and select former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick of the 2012 National Football League draft, he’ll wind up replacing long-time league icon Peyton Manning.

Manning is the NFL’s only four-time Most Valuable Player. He has also been one of the most successful regular-season quarterbacks in league history, leading Indianapolis to three AFC title games and two Super Bowl appearances. The 14-year veteran also guided the Colts to a win in Super Bowl XLI, capturing a Super Bowl MVP award along the way.

He’s also the Colts’ all-time leading passer statistically, throwing for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns and is a sure-fire candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Heady stuff.

But there’s more. Luck is being called the most NFL-ready quarterback to come out of the college ranks since fellow Stanford alum John Elway in 1983. Taking over for Manning is one thing. Being compared to players with the pedigree of Manning and Elway is something else entirely.

“[Luck is] one of the most dynamic quarterbacking talents to come out since John Elway,” former Baltimore Ravens coach and current Fox Sports/NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said Saturday at the National Football Scouting Combine. “[That’s] as a prospect, okay? I go back to the ‘Son, you’re potential is going to get me fired.’ So it’s still potential since he hasn’t been in the NFL.

“And people say, ‘Well, what about Peyton Manning [when he came out of college in 1998]?’ Let’s go back and remember. We had questions about Peyton Manning. You can’t find anybody now that will admit to it. But Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were touching [close in pre-draft evaluations]. What were the questions about Peyton? Well it was the arm strength. Obviously he’s overcome that. I think Andrew Luck has more credentials, fewer questions about him, than any quarterback since John Elway. Now it’s got to come together. [But] I think this guy is the real deal.”

So what does Elway, former Denver Broncos quarterback and now the executive vice president for football operations for the team, think of his fellow Stanford alum?

“Obviously, there’s going to be high expectations of Andrew, but he’s been dealing with that his whole life,” he said during a recent interview with Sirius XM NFL Radio. “I think any great quarterback’s expectations of themselves are always higher than the expectations of other people.”

Those expectations are sure to be tested early by a Colts team that was 2-14 last season and has salary cap issues that must be addressed quickly.

• Irsay speaks — Colts owner Jim Irsay broke his week-long silence about Manning Saturday. Via Twitter, he responded to questions from media and fans alike who wondered when the two sides would get together and hash out a decision on the quarterback’s future with the team.

“Not sure why some speculate that Peyton n I haven’t met in person recently..we’ve met in person n communicated frequently n last week or so,” Irsay tweeted. “As we have in the last month.”

He recently presented the possibility that Indianapolis would be open to the idea of negotiating a new incentive-laden contract with Manning, who has undergone four medical procedures over the last year and a half. The quarterback is due a $28 million team bonus on March 8 and could be released if a new contract can’t be worked out.

• Saturday comments — Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday took a turn as a guest analyst during the NFL Network’s Saturday coverage of the combine. He reiterated his position that Manning will return to play next season.

“I love {No.] 18. He’s my guy so I communicate with him regularly. He’s doing his deal and he’s getting ready,” the Colts veteran offensive lineman said. “He’ll be playing football, I can assure you that. I hope it’s here [in Indianapolis], but he’ll be playing somewhere.”

Saturday was also asked about the recent comments of general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano that they have not seen Manning throw the ball yet in a workout.

“If I’m the Colts and I have interest in Peyton, I’m calling him up to get him to come throw for me,’’ he said. “I’m not going to wait for him to decide to walk in and throw, I’m going to actively seek that out. That’s probably where that lies.”

According to the new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the National Football League Players Association, though, team officials are not allowed to watch a rehabbing player work out. Team medical personnel are the only people to have that kind of access.