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Thursday, November 15, 2012
Measuring rookie years: Luck vs. Peyton

By Paul Kuharsky

Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts
Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck's rookie seasons as the Colts' starting QB have been eerily similar.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will always be linked as contemporaries and rivals.

No matter how much longer Brady plays, it’s unlikely he and Andrew Luck will be grouped in the same way.

At this stage, the modest Luck is level-headed when his name comes up with the other two.

“I definitely don’t deserve to be in that sentence or breath as you said,” he told a questioner in a conference call with New England media this week. “If someday I can play at a level that Peyton and Tom play at, then that’d be a quarterback’s dream come true.”

As Luck and the next-generation Colts get ready for their game against New England Sunday at Gillette Stadium, it seems like a reasonable time to compare what Luck is doing as a rookie to what Manning did in his first year, way back in 1998. (You can compare Luck to other quarterbacks at the same stage of their rookie year at this Indianapolis Star page.)

Manning had more experienced skill players, with Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, receiver Marvin Harrison and tight end Marcus Pollard, and it was run by a veteran GM in Bill Polian. Although coach Jim Mora was in his first season with the Colts, he already had 11 years of experience as an NFL head coach.

Luck’s on a team loaded with young guys at the skill positions after receiver Reggie Wayne, put together by a first-time general manager in Ryan Grigson, run by a first-time head coach in Chuck Pagano and overseen by a first-time interim coach in Bruce Arians.

A snap shot comparison of rookie Luck and rookie Manning ...

Vision: When Luck was coming out of Stanford he was routinely compared to Manning, particularly with regard to football understanding.

“The similarity is they see the field the same exact way,” said Polian, now an ESPN analyst. “They are the same guy in terms of seeing the field, knowing what the progressions are, understanding the defenses. All of that is the same.”

300-yard games: Manning had four 300-yard passing games as a rookie. Luck has four 300-yard passing games as a rookie, including a rookie record 433-yard performance against the Dolphins.

No huddling: Arians was the quarterback coach for Manning at the start and is offensive coordinator (and now interim coach as well) for Luck at the start.

A key element of Arians’ offense is the no-huddle. Luck’s done very well running it.

“We’re asking Andrew to do a whole lot more than we did with Peyton," Arians said a couple weeks ago. "Peyton we gave two or three plays in the huddle, he was great at that phase of it, a lot of check-with-me's, but we didn’t do the no-huddle until his second year. He was great as a two-minute rookie, because coming out of college, those guys play in that shotgun and spread offense pretty good, and that’s usually what you do in two-minute, so it’s natural for him and the field gets a little cleaner. I think he’s a step ahead only because of what we’re asking him to do, and he’s doing it with a bunch of rookies, whereas Peyton had some really good players on that team.”

Arians said he’s caught himself looking to install some things too fast because of Luck’s ability to handle it. The coach has reminded himself he’s game-planning for four or five other rookies who regularly see time on offense, too.

On the move: As a rookie, Manning ran 15 times for 4.1 yards a carry. He didn’t score and was sacked 22 times.

Through nine games, Luck has run 34 times for 4.7 yards a carry. He’s scored five touchdowns and has been sacked 21 times.

“The biggest difference between the two is obviously Andrew’s ability to make plays with his feet,” Polian said. “... He has really good ability to make plays with his feet. He’s not dissimilar to Green Bay’s guy [Aaron Rodgers] in that regard.”

Completion percentages: Luck’s currently stands at .575. Manning finished his rookie season at .567.

Pace: In 1998, a team with a new coach and a rookie quarterback was expected to need some time to build. In 2012, a team with a new coach and a rookie quarterback is expected to need some time to build, but hardly gets the same degree of patience 14 years ago -- externally or internally.

“We don’t have time, we don’t have time,” Wayne said recently. “People like me, I can’t speak for Rob [Mathis], but people like me, I see the light. I see the light, man. So I don’t have the time to sit back and rebuild and say ‘Oh, we’ll be better at that next year or in a couple years, we should be in the hunt.’

“We need to be in the hunt now. We are in the hunt. We’re in a good situation, that’s why we want to continue to win games.”

Manning’s Colts were 1-8 through nine games en route to a 3-13 record and a fifth-place finish in the AFC East. Luck’s Colts are 6-3 through nine games, with a strong hold on second place in the AFC South and a real shot at a playoff spot.