Now that we’re past the halfway point of training camp, we’re starting to get a read on the strengths and weaknesses of the 2018 Indianapolis Colts roster. Some young players have made an impression, free agent additions have started to show how they might contribute to the team, and a bit of personality has started to take shape in the most physical training camp practices that have been reported for many years.
As we approach the first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Bob Kravitz sat down to interview former Colts head coach Rick Venturi to get his thoughts. Venturi has decades of football coaching experience at every level of competition and shared some insight into some of the highs and lows on the roster and provided some perspective on realistic expectations for Luck, the coaching staff, and the team in 2018.
What to Expect from Andrew Luck
Every indication from training camp to this point is that Andrew Luck is showing minimal signs of rust. He has been getting a pretty heavy throwing load and has only missed time during scheduled days off. He has been throwing at all levels of the field and even threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Brent during Friday’s night practice. That pass? It flew 60 yards in the air and hit Brent in stride.
Despite the positive early signs, and despite the fact that it is encouraging that Chris Ballard feels comfortable getting Luck reps in the first preseason game, the reality is that it has been nearly two years since Luck entered an NFL regular season game and had to go to work. A full NFL season is grueling for any position and quarterback is no exception.
What should we expect from Luck? What is reasonable? Venturi gives his thoughts:
He is such a brilliant guy on the field, I don’t think he is going to be rusty mentally. I think if you look at Andrew Luck since we’ve had him, there has been two Andrew Lucks. There was the Andrew Luck in 2016, which was a very good player, very good quarterback, seventh QBR which is my bible in terms of statistics. He was a good quarterback but he didn’t necessarily lift the whole team. The supporting cast was so weak that they limped into an 8-8.
In 2014, he was transformational. He was a multiplier. He lifted a team, a franchise, and a city on his back. I mean, he could have been the MVP of the league. He did more with less in 2014.
I don’t anticipate a 2014 but if we can get a 2016 then the pressure will be on Chris Ballard to have surrounded him with a good enough team to be competitive. That is going to be the key. Then the rest of it will be the supporting cast. If we can get the ‘16 Luck, I think that is what we can hope to get.
A couple of things are interesting from Venturi’s analysis. The first is that he acknowledges Luck had a woefully weak supporting cast in 2016. Despite that supporting cast, he carried the team to an 8-8 record. It was one of the best seasons of Lucks’ career, statistically, and he did all of this playing with an injured throwing shoulder.
In my mind, Luck’s 2016 season — knowing what we know now — has to be considered the greatest single season effort of his career. The team might have had more success in 2014, that is certainly true, but heralding Luck for carrying the team on his back, the city, and the franchise simply due to record is short-sighted.
The 2014 team had Hilton and Reggie Wayne at wide receiver, Coby Fleener at tight end, Castonzo and Mewhort, who had strong rookie season, at left guard. The defense had Cory Redding who was impactful and a leader, D’Qwell Jackson, Jerrell Freeman, and Erik Walden at linebacker, Vontae Davis and Mike Adams were also both playing at the peaks of their careers in the secondary.
It is fair to say that there were glaring weaknesses on the 2014 Colts roster at numerous positions but I think it’s entirely accurate to admit that the 2014 supporting cast was vastly superior to the 2016 team.
The 2016 team had fewer pieces to lean on. Hilton was the only proven wide receiver, Doyle was young and asked to contribute heavily to the offense for the first time in his career — out of necessity. Mewhort missed 6 games due to injury. A shell of Robert Mathis and Trent Cole were relied upon as primary pass rushers and Erik Walden was the best and most consistent pass rusher on the team. Freeman was no longer on the team and Edwin Jackson, rest in peace, was relied upon heavily as a rookie. Vontae Davis and Mike Adams both had down seasons and were showing signs of regression. Ultimately, the team was a mix of young, inexperienced, and not ready players and players who were old, past their prime, and nearing the end of their time with the team or in the NFL altogether.
I bring all of this up simply to state that, if the Colts get the 2016 version of Andrew Luck this year, they’re getting one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and one every bit deserving of MVP consideration as the one who played in 2014.
Venturi believes that Luck will use this season to right his career and get back to the best version of himself in 2019. He mentions that it is important that the Colts front office and coaching staff do not try to remake him and take away aspects of his game that make him special. He said:
I think maybe in ‘19 we get the 2014 Luck. I don’t want to de-program him. I think the worst thing you can do is make him a Joe Flacco. Let him play, tell him to get down when you’re going to get killed like Russell Wilson does. Look at Russell Wilson. Russell Wilson is a great player. He is 600 yards rushing, 4000 passing but he knows when to get down. But don’t restrict him. Don’t try to make him a pocket guy. Don’t deprogram him, that’s a mistake.
There is no doubt that Luck will need to do a better job of playing the game like Peyton Manning did as it relates to taking big hits. Hall of Fame caliber players who played for the Colts in the last decade who knew how to avoid taking big hits include Manning, Harrison, and Wayne. It would go a long way for Luck to tap into some of their self-preservation techniques to prolong his career and know when to take a hit and when not to. Hopefully, an improved offensive line will make it so he doesn’t have to worry about that as much as he did in the past.