INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 20, 2016) – It’s been difficult keeping up with the comings and goings on Chuck Pagano’s coaching staff.
But one caught our eye: Brian Schottenheimer.
Yes, there’s the name recognition. He’s Marty’s son, and Marty’s 205 overall victories while with four teams rank No. 7 in NFL history.
But we’re not here to talk about Marty. We’re here to consider the addition of Brian and the challenge he faces.
Brian Schottenheimer replaces Clyde Christensen as the Colts’ quarterbacks coach, which means he’s in charge of furthering the development of Andrew Luck.
Lest you’ve forgotten, Luck is the single most important player on the Colts’ roster. You can argue who sits at No. 2, but there’s a sizable gap to No. 1.
And in case you failed to get the memo, the NFL is a QB-driven league. Look at the league’s Final Four this weekend: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Cam Newton. That’s three QBs taken No. 1 overall, and Brady, the 199th player taken in 2000 who has proven the draft is a very inexact science.
The offseason upheaval with Pagano’s staff has resulted in Luck’s third offensive coordinator in five years. Rob Chudzinski follows Bruce Arians and Pep Hamilton.
We won’t waste time attempting to quantify the significance of Luck being forced to adapt to yet another scheme. Next to a reliable offensive line, a quarterback’s best friends are stability and continuity in the workplace.
But once the Colts’ offseason condition program opens in mid-April, Luck and Schottenheimer will be joined at the hip. It’s incumbent upon Schottenheimer to maximize Luck’s strengths and work to eliminate his weaknesses.
Everyone marvels at Luck’s competitive nature. He refuses to give up on plays and holds onto the football for as long as needed until something opens up down the field. Often, that’s been a deep strike to T.Y. Hilton. Occasionally, it’s been a “bonehead play’’ – Luck’s words – in the form of an interception or a fumble while being sacked.
While delivering 101 touchdown passes in his first four seasons, Luck also has been plagued with 70 turnovers – 55 interceptions and 15 lost fumbles.
Christensen spent four years trying to teach Luck when to say when.
“I’ve said to you guys three thousand times Andrew’s greatest strength is his greatness weakness,’’ Christensen said before accepting the offensive coordinator position with the Miami Dolphins. “He needs to be more protective of himself, but he’s not wired that way. Same with Matt (Hasselbeck).’’
Luck missed nine games this season with injuries to his right shoulder and ribs and a lacerated kidney. The latter occurred Nov. 8 against the Denver Broncos when he vacated the pocket and attempted to score. Inside the 5-yard line, he was hammered from the front and behind by a pair of Broncos.
Hasselbeck dealt with numerous injuries, but the most debilitating were fractured ribs suffered Dec. 6 at Pittsburgh.
Christensen insisted each injury was avoidable.
“My failure this year was both guys getting hurt was avoidable,’’ he said. “We didn’t get it taught well enough.
“Everyone knows about Andrew’s, but Matt’s was a self-inflicted one, too. It was a zero-yard gain and he takes a shot. Just slide. But it’s the way they play the game. It’s a fine line of when you rein them in and how you rein them in and when you let them go because that’s what the do.’’
Luck agreed he must play with a tad less reckless abandon moving forward. Prior to missing two early games with the rib and shoulder issues, he had started 56 consecutive games, including the postseason.
The worst part of his fourth season, Luck insisted was “just not playing. Football players want to play football. You feel like you’re letting teammates down.
“You realize football can be a violent game and as a quarterback I do know, and I’ve said this before, that you’ve got to take care of yourself and be prudent with what you do. I’ll definitely learn from that hit (against the Broncos).’’
Schottenheimer has been an NFL assistant for 16 seasons, spending time with the St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. While serving as either offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach, he’s worked with Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
And now, Andrew Luck.
Don’t casually dismiss the necessary impact of a quarterbacks coach.
Peyton Manning’s first position coach was Bruce Arians. From 2002-08, it was Jim Caldwell.
Maybe Manning would have piled up his ridiculous numbers without the counsel of Arians, Caldwell and long-time offensive coordinator Tom Moore. But consider the obvious influence of Caldwell, Moore and coach Tony Dungy.
- In his first four seasons, Manning suffered 81 interceptions, including a rookie-record 28 in 1998.
- After finishing ’02 with 19 interceptions as he and Caldwell got acquainted, Manning had 65 over the next six seasons. During one four-year stretch, his totals were 10, 10, 10 and 9. Manning remained prolific, but largely without the negative plays.
Caldwell and Manning spent countless hours together. It was Caldwell who harped on Manning to stay on top of his fundamentals and footwork as the season unfolded and the hits in the pocket piled up. They worked during practice, after practice, prior to games.
Christensen believes the best is yet to come from Luck. After four seasons, he said, Luck basically has just earned his “undergraduate degree.’’
“He’ll continue to mature,’’ Christensen said. “A silver lining from sitting out and the adversity is you can learn. He’s one of the great students of the game.
“He’ll learn from (2015), just watching, watching, watching the good and the bad. Those weren’t wasted weeks on Andrew Luck.
“He’ll mature and learn from this thing.’’
Brian Schottenheimer must be the teacher.