With the return of Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano to the sidelines this week, interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians kind of got lost in the shuffle.
Arians is a prime candidate for NFL Coach of the Year for the job that he did in filling in for Pagano, who was forced to take an extended leave of absence as he battle a form of leukemia.
He led the Colts to a 10-5 overall record (9-3 under Arians) and the No. 5 seed in the upcoming AFC playoffs.
In typical fashion, however, the veteran assistant coach is more than ready to hand the reins of the team back to his boss.
His biggest concern now, as offensive coordinator, will be trying to figure out a way to play better offensively against a very good Houston Texans defense on Sunday. Indianapolis dropped a 29-17 decision to the Texans two weeks ago at Reliant Stadium.
“They look just as good as they did the first time. We’ve got to block [No.] 94 [defensive end Antonio Smith] and [No.] 99 [defensive end J.J. Watt],” Arians said Thursday.
“They’re the outstanding players. Their front is as good as anybody we’ve played and their secondary is good. It’s an excellent defense.”
Indianapolis let a couple of opportunities to score more points, such as a fumble at the goal line by running back Mewelde Moore.
“Situationally, on third down and in the red zone, we failed a couple times in the red zone against them and fumbled the ball and got a touchdown called back that would have been huge points in that game,” the veteran assistant said.
“We had it to a six-point game in the fourth quarter and couldn’t pull this one out. Hopefully we’ll have that there and win it this time.”
• Less pressure? — Now that he’s not the interim coach, in addition to the duties as offensive coordinator, does the pressure ease up on Arians this week?
“Not really. Anytime you’re calling plays, there’s a bigger bulls eye on your back, I’ve learned that through the years. The game plan has always been the biggest part of the job. The other part is really kind of easy, but the game planning part takes all the time. Playing a team twice in three weeks is really difficult,” Arians explained.
One thing he won’t have to worry about the rest of the season is deciding when, or if, to throw the red replay review flag.
“Nope, that’s the biggest thing I’m glad to get rid of,” Arians laughed.
• Luck earns alternate tag — Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck was not selected to the Pro Bowl but was selected as a first alternate for the AFC team.
If either Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Matt Schaub are unable to participate in the Pro Bowl, Luck would be the next man up.
“It’s nice. It’s more of a reflection of how well this offense has done this year. It’s nice,” he said after Thursday’s practice.
Luck set the NFL rookie passing record last week against Kansas City. He has now thrown for 4,183 yards this season.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne and outside linebacker Robert Mathis were both named as starters for the AFC when rosters were announced Wednesday night.
• Wearing down? — The Colts’ No. 1 draft pick admits that he’s still getting used to the longer NFL season. Counting pre-season, Luck has played in 19 games this year.
“It has been long. I won’t lie. I’ve felt like all I’ve done my whole life is play this one season of football. That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t fun or you aren’t fresh. I think the guys in the training room, our coaches know how to keep us fresh, engaged in everything, mentally, physically,” he said.
“It has been long. I think especially for rookies when you go through the whole combine, draft, OTAs, traveling, moving, finishing school. But it’s fun and I’m glad we are sort of in the thick of things. I can’t speak for what it would be like if we weren’t in this sort of hunt.”
Luck maintains that he’s hasn’t seen the so-called “rookie wall” just yet.
“The season doesn’t allow it, especially for what was at stake and as a teammate what you owe to your teammates. You aren’t allowed to hit the rookie wall. You are not allowed, especially on this team,” he said.
• Injury list — Sitting out Thursday were running back Delone Carter (ankle), nose tackle Antonio Johnson (ankle), defensive end Cory Redding (quad) and center Samson Satele (ankle). Carter and Satele will not play Sunday against the Texans.
Wide receiver Donnie Avery (shoulder), inside linebacker Kavell Conner (hamstring), center A.Q. Shipley (knee), cornerback Teddy Williams (knee) and safety Tom Zbikowski (knee) all saw limited practice time.
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (thumb), offensive tackle Winston Justice (biceps), outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (rest) and Luck all fully practiced. Mathis was allowed a day off to rest old injuries.