INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Andrew Luck has been there. Remember 2012? The season opener at Chicago’s Soldier Field?
Now, Luck is the face of the Indianapolis Colts and highest-paid player in NFL history.
Then, he was the first overall pick in the draft and a rookie quarterback dealing with the disorder that afflicts all rookies.
“Sure, I had a lot of anxiety as a rookie . . . was a little nervous,’’ Luck said Monday.
But shortly after kickoff, reality trumped nerves.
In the NFL, Luck quickly discovered, no one cared he was a rookie. There was no easing-in period, not even a trace of compassion from the Bears or the opponents waiting for their shot at the ultra-hyped rookie.
“Guy lined up across from you doesn’t care if you’re a rookie or a 14-year vet, a Pro Bowler or not,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s all about going out and trying to beat that guy, win that play.’’
That in mind, at least two rookies will try to beat that guy, win that play Sunday when the Colts open the regular season against the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Ryan Kelly, the 18th overall pick in the April draft, starts at center.
T.J. Green, a second-round pick, starts alongside Mike Adams at safety.
Antonio Morrison, a fourth-rounder, might start at inside linebacker next to D’Qwell Jackson.
After a weekend of whittling and tweaking, the Colts at least for now have settled on a 53-player roster that includes 11 rookies.
Coach Chuck Pagano was asked whether the fact 20 percent of his roster is made up of rookies is a cause for angst.
“That’s why they’ve got Pepto-Bismol, right?’’ he said with a smile.
He paused for effect, then continued.
“We’ll be fine,’’ Pagano said. “They’re going to be prepared and they’re going to go play.
“We’ve got a good, good group of young guys. There’s going to be mistakes made, but they’re going to make them going 1,000 miles an hour.’’
So much is expected from Kelly. He’s considered the stabilizing force that’s been missing during Luck’s first four seasons. No longer will the Colts bounce from Samson Satele to Mike McGlynn to A.Q. Shipley to Khaled Holmes to Jon Harrison.
Luck was asked if Kelly is his center, or his rookie center.
“He’s my center,’’ he said.
That’s Kelly’s mindset as well. He’s well aware the team doesn’t have quotas for allowed mistakes simply because a player is a rookie. He summarily dismissed the notion a team must tolerate a rookie’s mistakes, again simply because he’s a rookie.
“If you took that approach, what are you saying? That it’s OK if I mess up?’’ Kelly said. “That’s not the standard we play to here. The standard of the horseshoe is you’re going to do the best job that you can. We’re always striving for perfection.
“You don’t want to play (like) a rookie. You want to play up to the level that everyone else is playing. You have to give the staff a reason to trust you.’’
Added Green: “They expect me not to play like a rookie. They expect me to play like I’ve been out there playing before.’’
Kelly was anointed the starting center the second the Colts drafted him. Green’s placement was accelerated when projected starter Clayton Geathers suffered a broken bone in his right foot in late July. Geathers returned to practice for the first time, albeit in a limited role, Monday.
“I’ve prepared the right way,’’ Green said. “I’ve done the work. When you can step on the field and not have to think too much because it’s already instilled in your brain – when the ball’s snapped and it’s just a reaction – that’s when you know you’re ready.’’
Relying on rookies on opening day isn’t a foreign concept for the Colts.
Last season, it was defensive linemen Henry Anderson and David Parry. In 2014, it was guard Jack Mewhort.
And in ’12, it was Luck and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
“If you can play football,’’ Luck said, “you can play.’’