That’s how Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck refers to second-year wide receiver and former college teammate Griff Whalen. The pair of an extensive history together, dating all the way back to their freshman year at Stanford.
Both were members of the Cardinal scout team as freshman, although Luck was the heavily recruited 6-foot-4 hotshot passer from Houston, Texas, and Whalen was the unheralded 5-11 walk-on from Sylvania, Ohio. Both, however, ended up having outstanding careers at the Pac-12 school.
Now, a year removed from college, both are still together. Luck was Indianapolis’ top pick in the 2012 NFL draft while Whalen was one of several undrafted free agents signed by the team the same year.
Ironically, heading into the 2013 campaign, both are poised to be integral parts of a retooled Indianapolis offense. Luck is coming off an outstanding rookie season. Whalen missed all of last year with a foot injury.
But through the first week of training camp, the tandem is off to an exceptionally good start. Luck isn’t a surprise.
Now healthy, Whalen has opened more than a few eyes among the team’s coaching staff.
“You know what, we always talk to everybody about becoming necessary and he is one of those guys that is becoming necessary. Make yourself necessary. He is one of those guys that from a special-teams standpoint, No. 1, he can do a lot of things for you,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said earlier this week.
“And then No. 2, he knows every position as far as wide-receiver positions go. I don’t know if he ever drops a pass, if any. He is very, very reliable. He is no different than Wes Welker in the early stages, [Julian) Edelman, Austin Collie, those type of guys. He is just a reliable guy. He studies his craft. He’s a gym rat. He’s here all the time, he’s working, he knows what to do, he doesn’t make mental mistakes. It’s going to be really hard to get rid of a guy like that. He is going to make it hard on us to try to get rid of him. He is doing a great job.”
Luck, for one, wasn’t shocked by Pagano’s comments. He’s heard them all before.
“[Whalen has] always surprised people. I remember [him] coming in as a freshman, as a walk-on. We thought we had the best scout team in America because [I’d] sort of throw the ball up to Griff and he would go run and catch it. He’s always surprised people. He ended up earning a scholarship. He’s just a good, solid, steady guy and he’s working his butt off. So it’s good.”
• Whalen quietly confident — Yes, the smallish receiver has his college quarterback to throw him the ball and his college position coach [Pep Hamilton] now serving as the Colts’ offensive coordinator. And there’s former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, another former college teammate, on the team as well as Indianapolis’ second-round draft pick from a year ago.
That’s all well and good. But as one of several receivers on the team’s training camp roster, Whalen knows he hasn’t won a job just yet. But he’s been in this position before.
“In certain situations, especially going into college the first few years there, absolutely, and then again right now I kind of have that feeling [of being considered an underdog]. I don’t really have all the hype and the big name. So I feel like I have to work extra hard,” he said this week.
That workload has been doubled after suffering a season-ending foot injury during preseason last season. After a full year of rehab, Whalen knows he must take full advantage of his current situation.
“It was a long offseason because the whole season felt like an offseason for me,” he said. “But it took a lot of work to get physically back to where I need to be as well.
“For me it was just big, psychologically, that I am back where I want to be. That whole offseason, there was a little bit of that worry like ‘Am I really going to be back? Is my foot going to be OK?’ But everything feels great. I’m happy with that.”
• First week of practice recap — The first full week of training camp is now in the books. Pagano put his team through a “spirited” two-hour workout Friday morning.
After a week of two-a-day workouts, the Colts finished up with a single practice. The morning walkthrough was canceled and the team had a full team session instead.
“That was great for everyone in our organization, especially our players. [We] threw a little curveball at them. There was some threat of rain [for Friday afternoon], so we decided to switch the schedule. It’s always good to have a changeup and we had a great practice,” the Indianapolis coach said.
“I thought we made a lot of progress this week. It’s been a tough, tough week. We’ve thrown a lot at them from a mental standpoint [and a] physical standpoint culminating [Friday]. We had our short-yardage and goal-line installation [Thursday] night. We try to simulate the physical part as best we can, but we like to stay up. We had a good session, a spirited session.”
Pagano liked the way the first week ended.
“There was great competition there, We got a lot done in that session. And more importantly we got out of there with nothing major [injury-wise]. The only injury really to report is [offensive guard] Joe Reitz got a stinger, got a burner and missed the rest of practice. It’s just going to be a couple days with him, but I think everybody else is good to go.”
• Injury list — Besides Reitz, the remainder of the team’s injury list included safety Sergio Brown, inside linebacker Mario Harvey, outside linebacker Daniel Adongo, cornerback Greg Toler, wide receiver LaVon Brazill, offensive guard Hugh Thornton and center Khaled Holmes.
Thornton had been in a walking boot all week after he suffered a sprained ankle a week ago on the final day of the Colts’ rookie camp. He was out of the boot Friday, which means he might be able to resume practicing at some point next week.
Holmes remains in a walking boot with his ankle injury. Toler has yet to be cleared to return to practice after suffering a concussion in practice Wednesday.
• Bethea due back next week — Free safety Antoine Bethea missed three days of practice after the birth of his daughter.
“It looks like they’re going to get to go home this morning with their child. Everybody’s in great shape and so obviously he’ll be back up here and ready to go Sunday,” Pagano said.