As if Andrew Luck didn't already enter the league with insanely high expectations attached to him, right from the start he's been forced to delay building chemistry with his teammates—albeit it a few practices—that will ultimately allow him to become the primary fuel for a team that has quickly given him a multitude of weapons to blossom with.
Ryan Grigson was making a statement when he drafted offensive player after offensive player in April—this is Luck's team. Sure, there were other players that he would have taken had they been available. But when it came down to picking a second tight end in Dwayne Allen over the likes of Trumaine Johnson and Josh Robinson, Grigson pulled the trigger and made his statement.
I love it and it's great for the offensive identity of this team, which was rather non-existent until the draft. Yet, one would have to think that it applies even more weight upon the shoulders of the rookie with the infamous neck beard. Luck has been given the task of being the new symbol of a city that was once guided by a legend for thirteen long and mostly incredible seasons. It doesn't help that this same legend is still in pads and could have yet another standout year in his already illustrious career.
And what about the guy in D.C.? Yeah, you know him—RG3. Even though Luck will never face Robert Griffin III—preseason excluded—in his rookie season, these two quarterback prodigies will always be compared and in competition with each other. Luck knows it. RG3 knows it. Yes, more pressure.
Not many expect Luck to send the Colts back to the postseason in year one, but the success of Manning in Denver will be a constant source of fuel for loud criticism from the many restless hearts of the horseshoe faithful. High expectations in the first year may be few, but progress is expected. If Manning leads the Broncos to the Super Bowl and Luck stumbles into his sophomore season, there will undoubtedly be some Indianapolis fans who will wonder, "What if?" Replace Manning with RG3 and you get the same question.
Colts defensive end Cory Redding was blunt about this new era for the Colts and more specifically, Luck's new role in Indianapolis:
"Yes, he’s replacing Peyton Manning, but Manning is no longer part of this team," defensive end Corey Redding said. "Peyton did great things, but now it’s Luck. He has to come in and not even think about that. He has to come in and do great things for this team. He can’t have [Manning] in the back of his mind. This is the 2012 team. We’re moving forward."
"He can't have Manning in the back of his mind." But he will. How could he not? Luck looked up to Manning as a kid. Manning is a family friend. Oh, and he only took a stagnant franchise and made it one of the league’s best, year in and year out. Now? Luck will be running a show that Manning's legend will forever blanket until, well, Luck creates a legend to call his own.
And I thought my finals were pressure-inducing...
Add all of these factors up, which doesn't even include the regular, every day struggles of a rookie quarterback's transition to the NFL, and you have the formula for a double-decker stress sandwich with extra pressure sauce.
While the Redskins gave up a king's ransom to secure RG3, the storyline is much different and definitely less dramatic. Sure, RG3 has an abundance of questions surrounding his soon-to-be career, but the Redskins didn't reach the playoffs for nine consecutive years, they haven't been to the big game twice in the last decade, winning it once, and they didn't cut one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time during the offseason.
Maybe all of this pressure talk is overblown. So far, Luck has managed a picture-perfect path to the NFL and after all, the great Peyton Manning did once say, "Pressure is something you feel when you don't know what the hell you're doing."
Furthermore, most of you know me as "Mr. Optimism." I had my initial doubts, but I still believe this team could surprise a lot of the naysayers in 2012. And I'm talking a 10-6, divisional round of the playoffs kind of surprise. Will that surprise happen? It's wishful thinking and I'm not a complete buffoon. I realize what this team, but more specifically, what this new franchise quarterback is up against. We should all be prepared.
No one ever said it was going to be easy though.
Let the new legend begin...