INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There’s been emphasis on the basic fundamentals of playing the game’s most influential position. The footwork, getting out from under center.
And although the messenger has changed – Brian Schottenheimer runs the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback room; Clyde Christensen is the new offensive coordinator in Miami – the message to Andrew Luck has remained the same.
Protect the football. Eliminate the negative plays. Know when to say when. As much as possible, lessen the risks while remaining aggressive.
Yet while Schottenheimer still is getting acquainted with his latest prized pupil, and while that prized pupil still is dealing with so much change around him, and while everyone is committed to putting a forgettable season behind them, there’s no question what we should expect from Luck in his fifth season.
“We’re not going to change the way Andrew plays,’’ Schottenheimer said Tuesday afternoon. “Andrew’s going to play the game.
“You’ve got to let Andrew play.’’
Much of the Colts’ offseason focus has been on how to better protect Luck. He’s been sacked 115 times in 55 regular-season starts and hit while throwing more than any quarterback since he arrived on the scene in 2012. He missed nine games last season – two early with injuries to his ribs and right shoulder, the final seven with a lacerated kidney.
Much of the abuse Luck has absorbed over the past four seasons can be traced to a substandard offensive line. Phase one of addressing that was the Colts using four of their eight draft picks on restocking the offensive line, including the 18th overall selection on presumptive starting center Ryan Kelly.
However, some of the hit-too-often issue rests with Luck. His competitive DNA frequently extends plays and turns a busted play into highlight material, but it also exposes him to nasty hits that are avoidable.
Even Luck admitted he must do things somewhat differently in his fifth season than the previous four.
“You have to be on the field to help your team is a simple truth,’’ he said. “I know as a quarterback you can avoid hits and limit those. I’ve got to do a better job of that.’’
In the end, though, the Colts realize it would be foolish to re-wire their franchise quarterback, even if possible.
“Andrew has to be Andrew,’’ said Rob Chudzinski, who represents Luck’s third offensive coordinator in five seasons. “But the reason he was out last year and us making sure he’s protected and protects himself . . . that’s been one of the focuses of the offseason. How are we going to protect him better? How is he going to protest himself better?
“It’s a catch-22. He extends plays. In his first few years in the league you look at tape, that’s where some of the biggest plays came, off of him extending plays and . . . plays that were out of rhythm, not necessarily by design. You have to temper that with him knowing when to say when.’’
That was a four-year dialogue between Luck and Christensen, and it’s fair to conclude the results were mixed. While Luck delivered 110 touchdowns in 61 games including the playoffs, he also suffered 84 turnovers – 67 interceptions, 17 lost fumbles.
Luck was one of the first calls Schottenheimer made after he was hired as quarterbacks coach. The two had met only once before.
“I called him after I took the job, just said ‘Hello,’’’ Schottenheimer said. “That’s kind of where the relationship started. Just was excited to get a chance to sit down and visit with him.
“(I) had been an admirer. I love coaching quarterbacks. I love being around (them). I’ve been blessed to be around some good ones.’’
During a 16-year career as an NFL assistant, his pupils have run the gamut: Sam Bradford with the St. Louis Rams, a young Mark Sanchez and ancient Brett Favre with the New York Jets, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers with the San Diego Chargers.
Now, he’s been entrusted with Luck.
“He’s a fun guy to coach and be around because he picks things up so quick,’’ Schottenheimer said. “The best part about it is you’re getting a guy that knows what he’s doing, a guy that has experienced a lot. It’s been fun to work with a guy that’s established, yet hungry to try different things and look at some different ways to do things.
“I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time. There’s always those couple of games or throws you’d like to have back. But you see the ability. You see a guy who’s obviously got a huge, huge, huge, huge career ahead of him.’’