Ever since the Indianapolis Colts drafted him first overall in 2012, quarterback Andrew Luck has been carrying the franchise.
That wasn't a problem for the first three years, as Luck proved to be good enough to get the Colts to the playoffs each season, moving one step further in the playoffs every year as well. In 2015, however, it led to the Colts' collapse as Luck struggled with injuries for much of the season and ended up missing nine games.
The Colts are making it a priority to protect Andrew Luck, as they hope to add a center still this offseason (and perhaps a guard, too), but part of that means working with Luck to play smarter and take less unnecessary hits. One of the main ways they're working to do that is to teach Luck how to slide better.
"One thing we did talk about internally was to make sure he does have the slide down," owner Jim Irsay said this week, according to ESPN's Mike Wells. "If we have to bring in a baseball player or baseball coach to talk about sliding. Russell Wilson is a baseball player, and when he slides, he does it so naturally. Andrew's struggled a little bit more, but I think that's just his competitive nature saying, ‘Do I shut it down or get those 2 extra yards?' His competitive nature just gets to him.
"But he has to stay healthy," Irsay continued. "That's part of his legacy. You can't be a great player in this league if you don't stay healthy. Everyone knows that. You just can't. I think about Bob Sanders. What a great, great player. ... But those injuries and the shortness of his career, that's a tough, tough thing."
If the Colts want to teach Luck how to slide better, they won't have to look far - Indianapolis Indians manager Dean Treanor told Wells that he would be happy to teach the Colts quarterback.
Whether or not the Colts take Treanor up on his offer, the underlying point is clear: Andrew Luck has to play smarter football, particularly when it comes to protecting himself. We've seen numerous examples of Luck trying to get every last yard possible or fighting to keep a play alive, and that's part of what makes him a special player - but it's also what, often times, puts him in harm's way. The challenge for the Colts is finding that balance where they can let Luck continue to be a playmaker but get him to understand when it's better to give up - slide, throw the ball away, etc. Since Luck is the team's franchise player, he needs to be out on the field more than he needs to get a few extra yards on one play. Often, that could simply mean sliding instead of taking a bit hit, but as we've seen, Andrew Luck is not the best at sliding (and that's an understatement).
As the offseason goes on, the Colts have a responsibility to protect their franchise quarterback, but Jim Irsay knows that part of that means getting Luck to play smarter and take less unnecessary hits.
"Andrew has the responsibility to make educated decisions to protect himself," Irsay said. "He knows that, and as we go forward, we want to see him at times slide, throw it away, keep him out of harm's way. We have to do a better job protecting him, too."
It's a work in progress for the Colts, but one thing is clear: though they've joked about teaching Luck to slide in the past, things have now become much more real and serious after Luck's injury. Hopefully, that leads to impactful changes for the better as the Colts and Luck try to protect the quarterback better.