Most of you probably didn't know this, but Coby Fleener was actually Luck's classmate at Stanford. Whalen too! And Delano Howell! And Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin (I have to show you this play)! Oh wait, those guys don't play for us. Damn.
The point is that the Post-Peyton Indianapolis Colts organization has deep connections with what's been going on Palo Alto over the last half decade. These connections have contributed to the new identity the Colts are trying to adopt: that of a physical, "power running" (which I know is a cringe-worthy term for many of you) team with a quality defense. Basically the opposite of what we were in the Manning era. It is this shift in philosophy, as well as its origins, that I hope to illuminate for you. I will also feature brief "bios" on prominent Stanford/Colts figures, like Pep Hamilton, for instance. Hopefully this doesn't get in the way of any free agency wish lists.
Those of you who extensively research every player/coach the Colts sign or hire may already know much of what I'm about to tell. Still, I hope I can provide you with some perspective, or at the very least, some fun trivia.
But first, a bit of ethos. I've been a Stanford fan all my life. I was born in Stanford hospital, my mother works with the Stanford alumni association (Box Seats!), and I've been going to Stanford games with my friends and family since before Andrew Luck ever picked up a football. Prior to the arrival of Harbaugh and company, there wasn't much about Stanford football worth bragging about. Hell, it got to a point when we were considering dropping out of division I football altogether. But we were rewarded for enduring those years of frustration by bearing witness to one of the greatest and most significant turnarounds in football history, which is fully documented in this awesome book, if you're interested.
On the origins of the Stanford connection.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the rise of Stanford was that, in a football landscape dominated by up-tempo spread offenses, a team that emphasized the "outdated" virtues of physicality and power was able to claw its way from a 1-11 season to four consecutive BCS bowls. That caught a lot of attention, and not just from the rest of college football, but from the NFL as well, particularly from organizations looking for a new beginning, like the Indianapolis Colts.
To many, the "Stanford connection" with the Colts began at the moment when Andrew Luck was chosen first overall. I think it started a little bit earlier, when Irsay and co. made the ballsy decision to cut ties with Manning and blow up the rest of the team, then rebuild from the ground up.
Why did the Colts feel they needed to do this? Well, it goes beyond Manning's injury. The Colts had spent the last 14 years with Manning at quarterback. They had given him everything a quarterback could ask for: Hall of Fame wide receivers, pro bowl tight ends, running backs, and linemen. The term "star wars numbers" is often joked about, but I find it fitting considering the amount of firepower Manning had in those days. But despite the multitude of weapons, the Colts repeatedly failed to reach the superbowl, largely because they were competing with New England Patriots, a team that was more well rounded and complete (and therefore superior) where the Colts were relatively one-dimensional, relying almost entirely on Manning to win games for them.
When Manning went down, the front office was forced to reconsider their position. They decided that one superbowl victory in 14 years of Manning was unsatisfactory, and felt compelled to go in a different direction, which meant taking a chance on a quarterback in the 2012 draft. Now, when an NFL team seriously considers a quarterback, they don't just scout the quarterback. They scout his coach, his teammates, and the system in which he works. Part of this is to test whether or not the prospect is truly "NFL ready," and the rest is peripheral. For example, it's pretty damn hard to examine Andrew Luck's college game tape without, incidentally, examining that of Coby Fleener. It's also hard not to notice how unique the Stanford offense is, both in terms of its complexity and versatility. Although Stanford's best player was our quarterback, we still considered ourselves a "run first" team, and we were. Our formidable balance of ground game and air attack was facilitated by the coaching staff's ability to effectively use Stanford's excellent tight ends. The group at the time was comprised of Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz (Eagles), and Levine Toilolo (Falcons.) In 2011 the "Tree Amigos" as they were known combined for nearly 1400 yards and 20 touchdowns. Fleener alone had 667 yards and 10 touchdowns. In contrast, the team's leading receiver, Griff Whalen, had 749 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Clearly, the FO saw something they liked, because not only did they select Andrew Luck, but they chose two tight ends before picking a wide receiver. They switched to a 3-4 defense (like Stanford's) and a year later, they hired Andrew Luck director of offense Pep Hamilton as well.
Obviously, it's good to make your rookie quarterback feel comfortable, but Luck is just as capable of running the Stanford offense as he is of running the wide receiver oriented Colt's offense of the previous decade. This goes beyond extending Luck's comfort-zone to the NFL. The Stanford players and coordinator, the defensive-minded head coach, the two tight ends: these are all indications of the direction this team is heading in.
On what to expect:
Sorry guys, but the power running game is not going anywhere, crappy debut or no. The organization does not want to rely solely on the arm of Andrew Luck to win games, because they've realized that it is fundamentally poor strategy to have the success of your team completely depend on how one guy performs on a given night. They tried it with Manning and realized that it didn't work. Now they have a new franchise quarterback, a whole new decade and a half of superbowl opportunities. To try the same failed strategy twice... well, Einstein would call that insane.
On a more optimistic note, the "Power O" showed flashes of brilliance last year, most notably against San Francisco. After that, the losses of Bradshaw, Ballard, Thomas, and Allen proved too much for the young running game to overcome. And that's to be expected, by the way. You don't become a good power running team overnight.
On Andrew Luck:
I'm not going to pretend I know the guy, but as far as I or anyone can tell, what you get is what you see. He's an intelligent, respectful, likable guy who takes responsibility when his team falls short and distributes credit when they come up big.
I remember David Shaw telling a story about him. I think it was after the Notre Dame game in 2010, but I can't remember for sure. All the Heisman candidates had great games that week, except for Luck. Although the Cardinal won big and ran the ball all over the Fucking Irish, Luck barely threw the ball. After the game, Shaw was talking to Luck and apologized because he knew Luck's Heisman resume had diminished. Luck responded that he felt that he had played his best game ever, having called all the correct running plays at the line of scrimmage.
Side note: Many people say he's humble. No NFL quarterback is humble, that's just what their agents want you to think. This doesn't mean Luck is a dick or narcissist, he's a very affable guy, but it's not like he doesn't know he's a great quarterback.
Which reminds me: He's a great quarterback.
On Coby Fleener:
Fleener is very very very very smart. Obviously he's more than academically competent, having gone to Stanford and everything, but he also possesses a certain cunning that I really enjoy. In addition to that, he's well spoken, well written (which you would know if you had just clicked on the damned link I just gave you) and has managed to suffer through nearly a decade of the media asking him about Andrew Luck. He's a good guy.
No wonder Brad gets peeved at him.
The bottom line is that Fleener is a team player with a good amount of potential. I enjoyed watching him improve this year, and I expect him to continue to do so.
On Griff Whalen:
First he was a walk-on at Stanford, then he was a leading receiver at Stanford. Then he was an undrafted free agent, then he was on the practice squad, then he was on the bench, then he was back on the practice squad, and then he was on the field, where he was productive and provided a boost that the Colt's offense desperately needed.
Whalen's defining characteristic seems to be that he is always in a process of dramatic improvement. He's not an elite athlete or a special talent, but he has proven that he can be a valuable contributor. He has, frankly, been far more valuable than Brazill and Rogers have been. Will he be on the practice squad next year? Maybe. Maybe his future isn't with the Colts, but it's with somebody, and I wouldn't be surprised if I saw him in another jersey in a few years. If I do, I suspect he'll be on the field.
On Pep Hamilton:
Contrary to popular belief, Pep Hamilton was not the man who brought the power running style to the Stanford offense. In fact, in the early Harbaugh years, Hamilton wasn't even a coordinator, he was, of all things, a wide receivers coach. The power running game just sort of... happened. Harbaugh was trying to create a "winning culture" that emphasized physicality and toughness. And, from a practical perspective, when your roster features Toby Gerhart, David DeCastro, Johnathan Martin, and David Yankey, you're kind of a dumbass if you don't run the ball.
The "dilemma" Hamilton faced when he became OC is the dilemma every coach wants: "I have too much talent on my team, how can I use it all?" This makes it sound like Hamilton had it easy, and yeah, he did. That's the way things are when Andrew Luck is your quarterback. Still, I think that Hamilton deserves credit for the way he used the two tight end sets to perfectly adjust his offense to the strengths of his players, which resulted in a very unique and potent system.
The key to that system, of course, is the two tight ends and the effective running game. Last year, we were too banged up for Pep to effectively implement his system. Next year, with so many players returning from injuries, we'll be able to accurately judge Hamilton's competence as a coordinator in the NFL. In the meantime, try to get with the program.
On Jim Harbaugh:
Not a Colt, but he's someone we've discussed on this blog before. Obviously I'm incredibly biased because this man single-handedly wrestled the destiny of my favorite college team from the hands of an angry football God and set it up for long term success. Still, I don't think it's the homerism talking when I say the guy is a brilliant coach, one of the best in the NFL. We were having a discussion in the comment section of Brad's article about him, and someone, I won't say (Sockpuppeteer) who, stated that Harbaugh always had "stacked" teams, and therefore could not be considered a coach on the level of say, Pete Carroll. I responded with one of my usual intelligent comments, I believe it was "You're an idiot." I never really backed that up with any logic, so that's what I will do now.
Yeah, Harbaugh had talent on the roster while at Stanford, but if you honestly think that Andrew Luck and the rest of the plethora of future NFL players Harbaugh recruited would have seriously considered coming to Stanford, or would have become NFL players without him there to coach them, you REALLY don't understand what a shit program this was before Harbaugh went all Lazarus on everything. And by the way, Pete Carroll had some pretty stacked teams himself down at USC, but that didn't stop Harbaugh from mopping the floor with him a couple of times.
And yeah, he "whines" on the sidelines, which really gets under people's skin for some reason. If that's the kind of thing you care about I really don't know what to say. It's football ya fuckin Jabroni. Endure.
Harbaugh is passionate, that's just who he is. One time, while Harbaugh was on the sideline, a player came up to him with a bleeding cut in his forehead. The player said "Look coach! I'm bleeding for Stanford!" Harbaugh put his hand on the player's head and rubbed the blood on his own face, war paint style. Then he bared his teeth at the other team. The players thought it was awesome.
On All Pro Stanford Graduate Richard Sherman:
Again, not a Colt, but obviously he's been a subject of debate across the NFL. I'm not going to talk about what he did after the NFC championship, because that was just an interview and it shouldn't matter.
Ya fuckin Jabronis.
Talking about Richard in Stanford circles is... interesting. We all support the guy because we know how intelligent he is and what he does for his community (and our recruiting.) Still, you don't hear a lot of praise for Seahawks that close to San Francisco, and that's just the way it is. Besides, Stanford prides itself on being a "classy" program, meaning we don't run our mouths after games or talk trash on the field.
But see, it wasn't always that way. Before David Shaw and the age of the class acts, before Jim Harbaugh and the winning tradition, Stanford was just a check in the win column for the rest of the Pac-10. As a result, the general attitude of the team was similar to that of a beaten down, but vicious alley cat. Our offensive line was known as the "East Coast Mafia" because most of our linemen were from the East coast, and they trash-talked accordingly.
This is the Stanford that Sherman was raised in. He was not part of the Andrew Luck recruiting generation, he was not one of Harbaugh's golden boys, and he certainly never expected his team to achieve anything close to what they ended up doing.
So if you look at Richard Sherman vs Andrew Luck and wonder how these guys can come from the same program, it's because they didn't. Sherman is from a bygone era of Stanford football, from a generation that carried a tremendous chip on its shoulder and still does today.
Personally, I'm glad everything worked out for him, and I love what he does.
Good lord a'mighty am I tired after writing all that. I wonder what the record for longest fanpost is. Regardless, if you read the whole thing, you are a trooper, and hopefully I gave you some things to think about.
What else can I tell you before I wrap this up?
Uhhhh, there was the time that Luck lost Toby Gerhart's car keys and the car was illegally parked for weeks until someone found the keys in the locker room. Gerhart didn't find out until long after.
And that's the man with the keys to your franchise.
Twenty Six Hundred
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