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July 27, 2013

Luck embraces old-school attack

ANDERSON — Most 23-year-olds don’t carry around a flip phone or eschew social media like a plague.

If it hasn’t become obvious by now, Andrew Luck isn’t much like most 23-year-olds.

He isn’t much like his peers in the new generation of NFL quarterbacks, either.

While much of the rest of the league has become infatuated with the read-option offense and the freakishly athletic quarterbacks required to pilot it, the Indianapolis Colts are quite content with their throwback model.

Luck has enough mobility to get himself out of a jam — ask Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews or look up video of the final drive last season in Detroit for proof — but nobody’s going to confuse him with Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III in a footrace.

He’s an old-fashioned drop-back passer far more similar to Johnny Unitas than Texas A&M’s ubiquitous Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny “Football” Manziel. And that makes him a perfect fit in the Circle City.

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano learned the game at the foot of his father, Sam, one of the winningest high school coaches in Colorado history. And, for all of his genius and innovation, new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s scheme still has its roots in the system former San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh used to dominate the NFL in the 1980s.

No, Indianapolis is not on board the league’s latest fad. But that might be just the thing that makes the 2013 season unique.

“Old, new, whatever works,” Luck said Saturday after reporting for training camp at Anderson University. “Hopefully, this offense works forus. I think it will. I’ve got a lot of confidence. There’s a bit of an old-school mentality of you got to be able to run the ball and play-action hopefully comes from that. Whatever works, and hopefully it works for us.”

Recent history suggests it just might.

The past two Super Bowl winners — the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens — supported the big-play potential of their quarterbacks with efficient running games.

And efficiency will be one of the keys to Hamilton’s scheme.

He’s not interested in raw numbers on passing attempts vs. rushing attempts. When he talks about balance, the first-year offensive coordinator is more concerned with how effective the running and passing games are.

Hamilton loves to talk about creating conflicts in opposing defenses, and the fastest means to that end is by keeping them at least somewhat in the dark about what you plan to do.

“I’m saying being effective at both of them, 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,” Hamilton said. “Our run game sets up our passing game, and vice versa.”

It’s a concept familiar to fans who watched Peyton Manning pick apart defenses with play-action passes during the heyday of Indianapolis’ “Triplets” era alongside wide receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James.

But this year’s Colts hope to come at it with a more physical approach. In place of some of the multiple-receiver sets fans have become accustomed to, there will be more use of the classic “I” formation.

“I think it’ll be a detailed, exact offense,” Luck said. “We have a fullback now as opposed to last year. That’ll be the biggest difference I think people notice. Personnel and formations change a little bit because

of that. It’s still football. At the end of the day, football is football whether you’re (new Philadelphia Eagles head coach) Chip Kelly of whatever offense you’re running. It’s football.”

And when it comes to football, Luck has excelled at every level.

He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl coming out of Houston’s Stratford High School and was a two-time Heisman runner-up at Stanford. In his rookie season in the NFL, he set a record with 4,734 passing yards.

That’s not to say Luck didn’t have his struggles in 2012. He threw 18 interceptions and completed just 54.1 percent of his passes. Those numbers could improve in Hamilton’s system and with a year of experience under his belt.

“I’ve always thought that kids make their biggest jump in their second and third year,” quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said. “If they were a stock, that’s the biggest percentage rise that they make — two and three. Then it slows down. Reggie Wayne is not going to make a 25 percent increase this year. But the Andrew Lucks and the young guys like him can. They really can make a big jump because they know what to expect.”

It’s easy to forget, for all the ways in which he seems so much older, that Luck still is a 23-year-old in many ways.

He’s just finding his way in his young career. He’s still a shadow of the player he one day will be. And he can still be a wide-eyed kid who’s just happy to play a game for a living.

“I love camp,” Luck said. “Last night, going to bed, it’s like you’re a little kid before your first day of school. You’re nervous. You don’t know what to expect. It’s a nice way to sort of forget about the world and focus on football. It’s simple in that way, and I enjoy it. It’s fun.”

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