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Chris Ballard filled with very high praise for Andrew Luck

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts have a special player at the quarterback position.

I think that’s something that most people who follow the team closely have come to realize over the five years that Andrew Luck has been with the team, and it’s something that stands out. Outside of an injury-plagued 2015 season Luck has been very good and has been able to make plays and help his team play above their overall talent level.

That’s something that was incredibly obvious in his first three years, when the Colts won 33 games and made an AFC Championship game. Talent-wise, they had no business being there. But the ability of their quarterback to extend plays and operate behind a shaky offensive line to still make plays helped carry them there. That’s something that everyone could see, but over the last two years it seems that the same playmaking ability and ability to extend plays has become the greatest criticism of Luck (for some strange reason), with people clamoring that Luck should get rid of the ball sooner or something like that.

It’s interesting, then, as 1070 the Fan’s JMV pointed out today on his show, that the thing Luck was most praised for in his first three years is now perhaps what he’s most criticized about, at least locally.

But don’t let those opinions get in the way of reality: Andrew Luck is a very good player. And new Colts GM Chris Ballard, who has emphasized the fact that Luck is only one player and that it’s not all about him, opened up today in an interview with JMV about just how special Andrew Luck is.

“I think all quarterbacks go to a point where, they have a stretch where the criticism starts to come in from the fans, from the media, but he’s not getting that same criticism internally,” Ballard said. “From an outsider being in Kansas City when I was there, we were scared to death. We were absolutely scared to death. Bob Sutton, the defensive coordinator in Kansas City, I know didn’t get a lot of sleep at night preparing for Andrew Luck. And I think the rest of the league feels that way about him. We’re fortunate to have him, and Andrew’s going to have a great career and finish out a great career here in Indianapolis.”

Ballard and the Chiefs had good reason to be scared to death of Andrew Luck: in the 2013 season Luck led the Colts to an insane and thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Chiefs in the wild card round, overcoming a 28-point deficit. Luck didn’t have a good first half, but the ability to finish and play his best football late is something especially obvious about Luck.

“I think he’s the best - at worst in the top three - fourth quarter quarterbacks in this league,” Ballard said. “And that’s what all the great ones have. He can play average or bad for three quarters and then absolutely just turn it on in the fourth quarter. And the great ones can do that, in every sport. A batter can go 0-for-4 in the tenth inning and hit a grand slam. Michael Jordan can be 0-for-10 and then in the fourth score 30. That’s what the special players do, that’s the guys that everybody pays to go see on Sunday do. Andrew’s in that category.”

During Ballard’s tenure in Kansas City the Chiefs were 1-2 against Luck’s Colts, including that aforementioned playoff thriller. He mentioned that Luck scared the Chiefs to death, but what was it that worried them the most?

“His ability to get out of the pocket and extend plays,” Ballard said. “It just scared the death out of you. Because he can, he can step up and out of the pocket and then still find receivers down the field and that’s scary with any quarterback. I mean, that’s where Aaron Rodgers is so scary. And Andrew’s got the same ability.”

Again, that ability to extend plays is what makes Luck special, but the Colts have to be careful not to try to coach that out of him. There has been a lot of talk about how he needs to slide more or how he needs to get rid of the ball faster or these other things, but that’s a very fine line between improving his game and getting rid of his instincts. What’s the correct balance?

“I think Andrew knows,” Ballard said. “And what we don’t want to do is coach the instincts out of him. You can’t do that. I mean, this is a hard game. It’s a hard game, and it’s a physical game and guys are going to get hit, quarterbacks are going to get hit. You don’t want it, but it’s part of the game. And Andrew knows that. Andrew, I think he’ll try to be better about sliding and getting down when he can get down and not take shots, but the one thing we’re not going to do and our staff won’t do it, they’re not going to coach the [instincts out of him], they’ve got to let Andrew play. They’ve got to let him play. And he will. Andrew will be ready to go and get ready to go and when he does he’ll play well.”

When Chris Ballard took the Colts’ GM job earlier this year it was assumed that Andrew Luck was a big part of his reasoning, which certainly had to have played a part in his decision. But at the time - and since then, too - Ballard has emphasized the team and how the Colts have to build a team around Luck so that he’s not doing it all himself. After all, Ballard has reasoned, Luck is just one guy. But don’t confuse that kind of talk for Ballard not thinking highly of his quarterback, because he revealed during his conversation with JMV today that he thinks the Colts’ quarterback is very, very good and is a special player.

But it’s not Luck’s just on-the-field play that impresses Ballard, it’s the way Luck carries himself off-the-field and the leadership Luck exhibits.

In an interview with the MMQB’s Albert Breer recently, Ballard thought back to the Chiefs’ 30-14 win over the Colts last season. In particular, he thought back to a press conference that he watched following the game. As Ballard began to make calls from the press box to set up Monday workouts with players, he saw on the TV Andrew Luck’s press conference - and he stopped and watched it and left really impressed.

“And so I watched the press conference with Andrew, and he owned it all,” Ballard told Breer. “Didn’t throw anyone under the bus. He owned everything. His mistake or not, he owned everything. And I’ll never forget going down, and I told [Chiefs GM John] Dorsey, ‘Boy, I just watched one of the best press conferences I’ve ever seen.’ A kid who owned it all. And that’s what the great leaders do—they don’t point fingers and they don’t blame. So I had a hint of it coming in the building, that that’s who he was. But now being around him, and watching his teammates, and how they react to him, and how they much they care about him, and on the flip side how much he cares about them and their success? It’s special. It’s really special.”

Special. That’s a good word to sum up what Chris Ballard thinks about Andrew Luck, both on and off the field. While most people who actually follow the team and football understand that (and certainly people within football), perhaps if Ballard can build a stronger team around the quarterback then Luck’s abilities will become more obvious to others.

But regardless of what others think about Luck, it’s clear that the Colts are very fortunate to have him, and Chris Ballard’s comments recently help to illustrate why.