Through the first five years of Andrew Luck’s career, we’ve seen the highs and lows of what he brings to the Indianapolis Colts. There’s little argument that the team goes as Luck goes, but injuries and a questionable supporting cast have forced him to carry the load the majority of the time.
Luck has truly worked under some polar opposites for offensive coordinators as well. He began his career learning under the hyper-aggressive Bruce Arians where the preponderance of the passing attempts were downfield. This, in turn, required the offensive line to block for extended periods of time, receivers to win at all three levels of their route and for Luck himself to be extremely patient and take risks.
He then worked under Pep Hamilton who brought more of a West Coast offensive approach which significantly quelled his interception total for the 2013 season. But at the same time this also put the bulk of the weight on Luck’s shoulders once the running game failed and the team lacked a legit receiving option out of the backfield.
Eventually, mid-season in 2015, Hamilton’s lack of creativity led to the Colts going with Rob Chudzinski to run the offense and officially hired him as the coordinator for the 2016 season. Chudzinski is somewhat of a collaboration of Luck’s two previous coordinators all wrapped into one. Chud possesses more consistent creativity than Hamilton, but likes to use some tight formations and the running game while still enjoying to take a more assertive approach downfield similar to Arians’ style.
Up through the 2015 season Luck worked closely with former quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen. While Christensen has a lengthy past of offensive success as a coordinator and position coach, Luck didn’t really appear to be making the necessary strides in the fundamental portion of his development.
Now, you could place that solely on Luck for being a relentless passer refusing to give up on plays despite the bleakest likelihood for success if you like. Or you could make the case that Christensen may have gotten used to allowing quarterbacks to be themselves and working out of their own issues. I lean towards the latter, however, the truth probably falls somewhere in between if we’re being honest.
Last offseason the Colts hired Brian Schottenheimer to take the reigns as Luck’s new quarterbacks coach and – at least from my viewpoint – there was an immediate focus on getting Luck more polished around the edges. There was a real push to clean up his footwork, eye discipline and especially his throwing power and accuracy. There was great emphasis on seeing his progressions through, as he’s struggled with bypassing his early reads for spells in his career in order to hit on that deep ball.
There’s very little doubt, from what I saw in training camp, that Luck’s 63.5 percent completion rate, 4,200-plus passing yards and 2.4/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio were all at least assisted by Schottenheimer’s attention to detail.
Naturally, we’re all well aware of Luck’s offseason shoulder surgery which has kept him out of OTA’s and mini-camp as expected. It still seems as though Luck could be doing simple individual workouts working his way up to going through some team drills at some point in training camp. I understand the concern, but aside from the obvious increased possibility of re-injuring that shoulder, I don’t see this as a bad thing.
Think about major league pitchers after they return from Tommy John surgery. Not only does their new ligament need to heal after surgery, but they have to learn to throw with less torque on that specific portion of the elbow in order to keep from tearing it up again. John Smoltz and Adam Wainwright among many others have successfully returned and some have even gotten better in the process.
Now, Tommy John surgery is more detrimental to a pitcher’s career in theory, but the comparison is solely here for a general understanding of how Luck will work to return to form post-surgery. Luck has always had a soft looking release with a compact load-to-release passing motion. But, in the meantime, the rest will have to come in to play one piece at a time as he begins to come back.
Considering Luck had the most statistically successful season of his career in 2016 under Schottenheimer’s tutelage, a second season of work along with the two continuing to push for fundamental improvement could yield great rewards in the year ahead. Having to work on the short developing routes first just to get initial reps and Luck being forced to move defenders with his eyes to get the receivers open will ultimately be like starting over with his mechanics.
Then regaining his arm strength throughout the process – all while working towards 100 percent health – can do nothing but bring the entire package together. Unlike a young, more athletically developed basketball player in comparison to his peers, Luck will have to go through the intricacies of regaining his talents step by step – instead relying on his fundamentals to perfect the other parts of his game where he’s struggled in the past to.
This truly feels like a muscle car being rebuilt. We know what the sum of all the parts can produce, and now we get to see the reformation of those parts, but with the time to polish and tune them up with fresh connections. I know I’m full of metaphors today, but you see where I’m going with this.
While the massive transition has altered the face of the roster, most of us don’t necessarily expect to see a legit Super Bowl contender. But, make no mistake about it, a hungry, confident and more fundamentally sound Luck along with a second season alongside Schottenheimer could very possibly slingshot Luck into the MVP race, especially if he looks anything like he did in 2016.