When Andrew Luck entered the NFL, he had the unenviable task of replacing a living legend in Peyton Manning. Manning, one of the NFL's undisputed all-time greats and the greatest player in Colts history, had directed the Colts to one of the most incredible runs the league has ever seen.
And a 22-year old rookie was being tasked with replacing the recently released Manning. It was no small task, and it certainly would have given plenty of legitimate reason to stress and let the pressure get to him. Luck didn't, however, and the words of another great during the Manning Era really helped Luck ease into the franchise quarterback role. That player was defensive end Dwight Freeney, himself a great player, and Luck told the story this offseason to Colts.com's Kevin Bowen about how Freeney helped him adapt to the NFL:
"I know the first day I walked into the locker room, Dwight Freeney, one of the all-time great defensive ends, arguably the best of the last 15 years, said, ‘Hey rookie step into my office.' He says, and I'll paraphrase here, ‘You don't worry at all about the guy who was here before you. You're not going to worry at all about the guy who's going to be here after you. You just got to be worried about yourself. We are all in this together. Let's just go try and win football games.'
"For the team leader, the stud, the Pro Bowler, the Hall of Fame guy, to go out of his way to get the rookie quarterback in his locker and sort of make me feel comfortable, that meant a lot. It really did because it makes it so much easier when you're doing something or struggling with a bunch of other people and you don't feel alone. I'll always be forever indebted to Dwight and all the other guys for helping me with that."
Freeney was with Luck for just one year in 2012 and it was one of his worst seasons in the NFL as he struggled to adjust to the 3-4 defense (recording just 5 sacks, which up to that point was the second lowest total of his career). - but make no mistake, Freeney was still an important contributor, especially in the locker room. He was an incredible impact player for the Colts during his 11-year career with the team, racking up 107.5 sacks (which was a franchise record until Robert Mathis broke it last year) and was as disruptive as any pass rusher in recent memory, but he was also a great guy in the locker room and a team leader, and that is evidenced by Luck's story about how Freeney helped him when he first entered the league.
Of course, Freeney is now with the San Diego Chargers, who he played well for last year before his season was cut short after just 4 games. He's still an impact guy, however, and Bolts from the Blue recently ranked Freeney as the seventh most valuable player to the Chargers this year. Luck has developed into one of the league's better quarterbacks and the sky is the limit for him. He has exceeded expectations, despite being the first overall pick in 2012, and he enters year three looking to establish himself firmly as an elite quarterback. Even though Freeney played just one year with Luck, his impact with the Colts new franchise quarterback still resonates today.
For more from Luck, including why he cried on the field once and what he plans to do after his NFL career, check out the full post from Kevin Bowen here.