The 2016 offseason has been one marked by change for the Indianapolis Colts. The change that everyone expected to happen actually didn't (with Chuck Pagano and/or Ryan Grigson), but other than that, there's a lot that is different about the team as the players reported on Monday for the start of voluntary offseason workouts.
Few people have been affected more by the changes than the Colts' franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck. Not only is he working to get fully healthy and not only is he working to return to the fundamentals and improve his game, he's also working to adjust to a new offense, a new coaching staff, and some new teammates.
In the span of six months, a lot of the people on the team Luck was closest to with the team are now gone. Offensive Pep Hamilton, Luck's coach at Stanford and then for a few years with the Colts, was fired last November. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, who worked with Luck for each of his first four seasons in the NFL, left to become the Dolphins' offensive coordinator. Matt Hasselbeck, who had backed up Luck for the past three seasons, was not re-signed by the Colts and retired. Griff Whalen, who was with the Colts on-and-off again for four years, who played with Luck at Stanford, and who roomed with Luck at Stanford, was cut and later signed with the Dolphins. Coby Fleener, another player who has been with Luck throughout his Colts career and dating back to Stanford, left in free agency for the Saints. In other words: there has been a lot of change for the Colts, and a lot of it will affect Andrew Luck.
The Colts have replacements in mind. Rob Chudzinski is the full-time offensive coordinator now. Brian Schottenheimer is the new quarterbacks coach. Scott Tolzein is the new backup quarterback, Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle are back at tight end, and at wide receiver there's enough very good talent - T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Phillip Dorsett - to cover the loss of Whalen. But the remaining idea is simply that Luck will need to adjust. It's the nature of the NFL, yes, but it's tough nonetheless.
"Professional sports is a business at the end of the day," Luck said on Monday. "Probably the worst part about pro sports besides losing is seeing buddies go, seeing coaches that are friends go, guys that you've built relationships with and their families. You see them leave, but at the end of the day, it is a business. You're always happy if a guy gets another chance and gets to go play somewhere. What we're focused on now is the Colts, who's in this building now and who will be in this building in the next couple of weeks, joining and making the strongest team that we can."
Luck said that change has been a reality in the NFL ever since he arrived in the league with the Colts in 2012. And he has a point, too, as in his rookie year Chuck Pagano missed most of the year with cancer, and then after the year Bruce Arians left to become the Arizona Cardinals' head coach. So Luck is no stranger to change, and he turns to veterans in the locker room on how to deal with it, saying on Monday that he has turned to guys like Robert Mathis and Adam Vinatieri since arriving in Indy and that he still does so - but now, he also realizes that he's one of those guys that new and younger players look up to.
As the Colts turn the page to 2016, Luck is grateful for the time that he was able to spend working with the people he has been able to so far.
"I feel one, fortunate that I got to spend four years with Clyde Christensen," he said. "One of the finest coaches I've ever been around, a fine man, and I think he'll do great down in Miami. And again, fortunate to have played with Matt [Hasselbeck] for I guess three years and learn so many lessons from him. Not just about being a quarterback but what a great role model he is for an aspiring father and a family guy. So now we have to watch him on TV and probably criticize us a lot, which will be great. There's been some great guys and then [Coby] Fleener, I've played with him since back in college and Griff [Whalen] for like eight years uninterrupted now. I feel fortunate to have been able to experience that. I don't know how many guys get to play four years of college with their buddies and then another four years in the NFL. I realize that's special and all good things do come to an end and I think great opportunities for both of them."
Now, the focus shifts to learning the new system with the new coaches - people who Luck said are "great teachers." In the midst of all of the change, the Colts' focus on winning hasn't wavered, so the team will need to make sure the players are on board with the new system and ready to go. Andrew Luck perhaps said it best when he made his opening statement to the media on Monday: Obviously a lot of change, which I think could be a good thing. It needs to be a good thing for the Colts."