ANDERSON, Ind. – The baggage that comes with being Andrew Luck isn’t weighing on Andrew Luck.
He’s been the face of the Indianapolis Colts since replacing the irreplaceable Peyton Manning in 2012.
He was the catalyst to the three consecutive playoff appearances after the franchise bottomed out in 2011.
He’s coming off an injury-plagued, turnover-marred ’15 that saw the team fail to make the playoffs and after which outsiders began to question whether he had been over-hyped.
And, most recently, he became the highest-paid player in NFL history in June when owner Jim Irsay doled out a five-year, $123 million extension in June. He’ll be paid nearly $140 million over the next six seasons.
Shortly after reporting to Anderson University Tuesday morning for the start of his fifth training camp, Luck was asked if the fat contract has increased the expectations and the pressure.
“No, I don’t think so,’’ he said. “I’ve always thought this about pressure and expectations: I’ve always had very high expectations for myself, probably higher than what other people expect and as far as pressure, I think pressure is a privilege.
“Pressure from your coach, from teammates, from your close friends and family is what’s important to me and you can’t control what folks are going to say, good or bad. I never got too caught up in that.’’
Last year at this time, the Colts were viewed as a front-runner to reach Super Bowl 50 and Luck was considered a top MVP candidate.
No longer. USAToday’s preseason poll lists the Colts No. 18, behind AFC South rivals Houston (No. 12) and Jacksonville (No. 17). In its list of the league’s top 100 players, NFL Network ranked Luck No. 92. He was No. 7 a year ago.
However, oddsmakers haven’t given up on Luck. Bovada has him tied with Arizona’s Carson Palmer for sixth among preseason MVP candidates at 12/1. The top five: Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (4/1), Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (7/1), Carolina’s Cam Newton (15/2), Seattle’s Russell Wilson (8/1) and New England’s Tom Brady (9/1).
Again, it’s doubtful Luck has paid much attention to the outside noise.
Instead, he’s committed to putting a forgettable ’15 behind him and helping the Colts regain their playoff swagger.
“As far as expectations, internally it’s been the same since I’ve been a rookie here, probably since the same before I was a rookie here,’’ Luck said. “It’s you win. This is a winning franchise. You find a way to make the playoffs and give yourselves a chance to win the Super Bowl.
“That’s always been the expectation no matter whether you’re picked first, 32nd or anywhere in between.’’
So, the goal is to be playing Feb. 5 in Houston site of Super Bowl 51?
“Absolutely,’’ Luck said, “and win that game.’’
Injuries to his right shoulder and ribs, along with a lacerated kidney, limited Luck to seven starts last season. Toss in his sub-par performance when he did play – 12 interceptions, one lost fumble – and it’s understandable why Luck undoubtedly carries additional motivation heading into his fifth season.
“Maybe a little more motivation coming off of last year because of not just the injury but not just doing as well as you would’ve liked,’’ he said. “But every season you want to go out and win. It doesn’t matter how poorly or how well you did the year before, I think.
“Every year it’s a little different. Obviously there’s some more new faces and that’s sort of different.’’
Luck will working with his third coordinator (Rob Chudzinski) and second position coach (Brian Schottenheimer). No longer can he seek the counsel of Matt Hasselbeck. He must move on without former Stanford friends/teammates Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen.
Teammates have noticed a different Luck, a more assertive Luck.
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo described a more vocal Luck.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton agreed.
“Oh, absolutely,’’ he said. “Especially with him being down last year, he started talking more and being more into the game. Right now he is doing it all. He is talking and making sure guys are on the same page and making sure guys are in the right spot.
“It is great to have 12 back. Anytime you get to throw with him it is fun. Just to have him back brings a lot of smiles to a lot of faces.’’
Luck gradually assumed a greater leadership role with the offense, and it became his realm when Reggie Wayne departed after 2014.
The role, he insisted, isn’t a burden.
“I think it’s a privilege to play quarterback,’’ Luck said. “It’s a privilege to be able to play five years in the same place in this league. I take that role seriously as a quarterback and obviously it’s a natural progression.
“The older you get, the more of a role you’re going to take and maybe the way you embrace that role changes a little bit. I know I’ve been definitely more vocal as the years have gone on and maybe felt like if my opinion needs to be heard, I don’t hesitate in making sure it’s said.
“To me, it’s not a burden in any sense. It’s a privilege and I feel honored to be a quarterback in this league and a quarterback for the Colts.’’
And Luck made it clear he’s back in he element. Training camp is a slice of heaven.
“It’s ball all day,’’ he said. “You don’t have to think about anything.
“You can wear the same clothes two weeks in a row and no one’s going to judge you unless you start smelling and someone tells you that you smell.’’