NFL Nation: Clyde Christensen

Andrew LuckAndrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsColts QB Andrew Luck recovers a fumble to score a fourth-quarter touchdown from 5 yards out.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis quarterback coach Clyde Christensen and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, with the urging of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, gathered with starter Andrew Luck at the team hotel on the eve of their wild-card game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

This wasn't one these meetings where they gathered in a dark room to watch some more game film. It was more of a heart-to-heart talk between the quarterback coach, the veteran quarterback and the franchise player.

Christensen wanted to make sure Luck wasn't too amped up for his second career playoff game.

"Clyde compared it to the Indianapolis 500," Hasselbeck said. "Don't come out too fast and do something stupid early in the game that takes us out of the race. Ironically, we started well. Then things changed for a little bit."

The Colts looked like they were going to crash out early and have their season end in embarrassment at Lucas Oil Stadium. Luck, the kid who never gets rattled, lost some of his composure as the interceptions increased and the deficit grew.

Then he reverted back to the quarterback who all too often told his teammates not to think about losing because they wouldn't stop playing until the clock had all zeroes on it.

In what's become the norm for Luck during his young career, he shook off his three interceptions and did something that's happened only one other time in playoff history, leading the Colts back from a 28-point deficit to beat the Chiefs 45-44.

"He's a second-year guy, so technically he's still a kid in the league, but he plays like a grown man," Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. "As long as we have 12, we have a chance."

As crazy as it might sound, the fact Luck led the Colts to the come-from-behind victory isn't surprising. The Colts have won seven games in which they've trailed by double-digits in 34 games as Luck as their quarterback.

It's the 28-point deficit they came back from that's surprising. That's the second-largest comeback in playoff history. Luck finished 29-of-45 for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

He capped off the comeback when he took a step up in the pocket and found receiver T.Y. Hilton streaking downfield for a 64-yard touchdown with less than five minutes left in the game.

"He kept telling us, even at 38-10, 'We're going to win this game,'" offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo said.

Luck has never been one to show much emotion when things go wrong during the game. But there he was, slapping both hands on the ground as he lay there after one of his interceptions and slapping his hands together as he ran off the field after throwing his third interception.

That's how bad things were going for the Colts and their franchise player. They looked like they were on their way to another one-and-done in the playoffs.

"Yeah, I was disappointed in myself, angry," Luck said. "Really felt like I was letting the team down, especially after I think we got a little momentum on some of those, then I go up there and throw a pick and sort of set everything back. I was angry. You got to flush it. You got to forget about it."

You would have never known Luck made those mistakes when he told his teammates to stay calm because they still had a chance to win the game, despite the large deficit.

As crazy as it sounds, it was all about patience despite the 28-point hole.

"He's not giving you a bunch of bulls--- when he says that stuff," Castonzo said. "At no point does he not believe we're not going to win. He's led us on a lot of comebacks for a reason. The guy does not freak out."

There was some luck involved in this comeback. After running back Donald Brown fumbled, the ball bounced off of center Samson Satele's helmet, Luck picked it up and ran in from 5 yards out.

"I sort of set Donald up for failure a little bit there," Luck said. "It was a loaded box and I called a run. I was hoping Donald would do one [of] his amazing plays like he'd been doing all game. It didn't happen. Sort of saw the ball there and I think you revert back to playground whatever. Pick it up and try to score."

That was the indication that it was meant to be on this night for Luck and the Colts.

"Andrew kept saying, 'Stay with me, stay with me,'" Colts tackle Gosder Cherilus said. "He willed us to this win."

Or as long snapper Matt Overton put it, "An ESPN Instant Classic."

Luck adjusts, has a better second season

December, 31, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Andrew Luck stood barefoot with his hands gently locked in front of him in the hallway outside the locker room at the team’s facility more than two months ago.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaAndrew Luck bounced back from the loss of his No. 1 receiver.
The Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback, with some frustration in his voice, threw around the phrases “sick to my stomach” and “loss in a sense.”

Luck was about to step into unfamiliar territory for the first time in his young NFL career. He no longer would have his security blanket, the player who led in the locker room and on the field and the one who could make up for a bad throw by making an incredible catch.

Future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne was done for the season with a torn ACL. Enter a group of receivers in which doing a Google search to learn about their playing background wasn't considered embarrassing.

As much as it may hurt Colts fans to hear this, Luck had to follow New England quarterback Tom Brady's blueprint. There's no better quarterback in the league than Brady when it comes to getting the most out of his receivers.

It was Luck’s turn to do the same if the Colts expected to win the AFC South.

And just as he did at Stratford High School in Houston and during his All-American career at Stanford, Luck, the methodical perfectionist, put in the time, never showed any frustration and stayed committed to his young receivers. The result was a better second half of the season for Luck.

“It’s never easy to lose your go-to guy,” Colts veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I really think the setup we had here was healthy. Other guys had to step up and fill the void."

Luck’s passing yards are down from his rookie season because the Colts put more of an emphasis on the running game. But the decision-making skills he displayed during the season give validation on why he was a better quarterback this season. Luck improved his completion percentage from 54.1 to 60.2, and threw 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Peyton Manning has had only one season in his 16-year career where he had less than 10 interceptions.

“Regardless of who is out there, he’s going to find a way to get the job done,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s not going to walk in here because we lost this guy, that guy and whatever. He’s just one of those guys that has a great attitude and it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. He’s going to find a way to win the football game and he wills his team to win games. He’s a great competitor that way. He’s got that ‘it’ factor.”

The transition wasn’t easy at first because Luck had completed only 23.8 percent of his pass attempts when Wayne wasn’t on the field before the injury, and the future Hall of Fame receiver had accounted for 101 of Luck's 288 first-down completions.

The Colts went from having Wayne as the No. 1 receiver to moving second-year player T.Y. Hilton into his spot. Darrius Heyward-Bey still lacked the mental focus to catch the ball. LaVon Brazill was suspended the first four games of the season, and Griff Whalen was on the practice squad for the three games before Wayne’s injury.

Quarterback coach Clyde Christensen spoke up after Wayne's injury and said Luck had to maintain a "steady temperature," according to Hasselbeck, and simply reminded him what the focus needed to be.

“Really didn’t have to [talk a lot about it] because we’ve been through so much adversity and injuries,” Pagano said. “I think Reggie was the last of the five starters on the offensive side of the ball that we lost. And so there was really no need for a discussion.”

The first two games without Wayne weren’t bad because Hilton had 14 catches for 251 yards. Wayne's absence became noticeable when teams found a way to slow Hilton down by giving help over the top, forcing Luck to go elsewhere with the ball.

That didn’t turn out too well.

He completed only 50.5 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the first five games without Wayne.

Luck, who would rather compliment than ridicule a teammate, didn’t get discouraged. Drop a pass and he had no problem going back to that receiver the next time the opportunity presented itself.

The continuity started to show against Cincinnati on Dec. 8, when Brazill and Da'Rick Rogers, who was brought up from the practice squad, combined for 160 yards and four touchdowns.

The sudden maturity at receiver allowed the Colts to use a no-huddle offense with Luck in the shotgun. He completed 67 percent of his attempts for six touchdowns and only one interception in the final four games of the regular season.

It's a perfect time, too, because the Colts will need Luck's arm and mental toughness in order to win their first playoff game since 2009 when they host the Chiefs on Saturday.

“I think there’s a bit of a rhythm that we’ve found,” Luck said. “And it’s good. I’m glad we’re playing decent football going into the postseason. We know the postseason’s a whole different ballgame and one-and-done, and we’re excited about that.”
Pep Hamilton spoke to the Indianapolis Colts offense as a unit for the first time Tuesday, and he told his players not to latch on to the label that is floating around for what’s to come.

“He said, ‘People are saying we’re running the West Coast offense,” backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said on The Midday 180 in Nashville Tuesday afternoon, a show of which I am a part. “He said, ‘We’re running the No Coast Offense. I don’t care what people have done in the past, we’re going to do whatever it takes.’

“So, ironically, you can feel the footprint of Peyton Manning and that offense still in this playbook, stuff that they’ve done. Stuff that was good with Reggie Wayne. Stuff that was just good for the guys here, that’s worked with Clyde Christensen, the quarterbacks coach. Then there is a good element of the stuff that Bruce Arians had success with last year that worked with Andrew (Luck). Then there is the stuff that Pep did at Stanford with Jim Harbaugh and kind of what the 49ers are doing.

“For me, someone who’s played in kind of the West Coast verbage a good part of my career, the plays, I am swimming learning this playbook right now. It’s not just cookie cutter West Coast like people would say at all. They are putting a lot on every player.”

Hasselbeck said they’ve already looked at about a dozen personnel groupings.

"I don’t think I could put it in a box even if I knew enough about it right now," Hasselbeck said. "It’s really going to be diverse."

One of the big questions for the Colts this season will be about how the offense carries over some of what worked so well under Arians, now the Arizona Cardinals' head coach.

While Arians really pushed the ball downfield, Hamilton’s philosophy has traditionally included West Coast elements, with a run game setting up play-action and more short, high-percentage throws for the quarterback.

No matter how married Hamilton is to the philosophies he brought to Indianapolis with him, any good coordinator coming into a new situation is wise to hold over some of the best parts of what preceded him.

It sounds like Hamilton will be thinking that way and that’s good news for Luck and the Colts.

Find the whole Hasselbeck interview here.

Also, Hasselbeck came up with a creative way to get his old No. 8 from third-string QB Chandler Harnish.
In whatever story Andrew Luck writes as an Indianapolis Colts quarterback, Bruce Arians will always occupy a vital place in the initial chapter.

Barring a reunion later in their careers, that’s likely to be the extent of it.

Arians has reportedly been hired for the last of eight NFL head-coaching jobs that opened this offseason, and will take over the Arizona Cardinals.

For his work as the Colts interim coach for 12 games in 2012, Arians earned a special place in the hearts of the team’s fans. The franchise bottomed out at 2-14 in 2011 as Peyton Manning missed the season with a neck problem.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians and Andrew Luck
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck and the Colts went 9-3 with Bruce Arians, right, at the helm this season.
It jettisoned the guy who ran the team, Bill Polian, his head coach, Jim Caldwell, and Manning.

Owner Jim Irsay than hired Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. Pagano hired his old friend, Arians, as his offensive coordinator and the organization drafted him an ultimate quarterback to groom in Luck.

When Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and left the team for treatment, he tabbed Arians as his stand-in.

And Arians is expected to win coach-of-the-year honors, probably sharing them with Pagano.

The Colts went 11-5 this season, 9-3 under Arians, earning a playoff berth.

It was an incredible story, and one that got Arians in the pipeline for at least three of the open jobs despite the fact that most teams looked for a guy younger than him. He lost out in Chicago, where he was a finalist, and in San Diego. But now the 60-year-old Arians is an NFL head coach with a more challenging job because he's got to find a quarterback to develop.

The Colts will be thrilled for him, but sad to lose him.

And Pagano needs a new coordinator.

I’d hate to see the offense move far from the scheme it ran last year, as it was very effective, and as a vertical offense is a lot of fun to watch.

Can quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, who coordinated for Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay and for Caldwell in Indianapolis, take over and carry on? Or will Pagano be inclined to bring in someone new?

Among those available now who’ve done the job before are Cincinnati receivers coach Hue Jackson, former Browns coach Pat Shurmur, former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, former Baltimore coordinator Cam Cameron and former Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey.

Former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt might have been a great fit, but he was introduced as the new offensive coordinator in San Diego on Thursday.

Arians is a tough loss, for sure.

Pagano isn’t going to wave a white flag over it. He’ll always be grateful to Arians. But it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been formulating a contingency plan.

AFC West hirings: What's left?

January, 16, 2013
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It’s been a busy 17 days in the AFC West since the end of the 2012 regular season.

The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers both fired their general managers and head coaches and they each found replacements for both spots.

Thus, the heavy lifting of the AFC West firing/hiring season is over, but there still is some work to do for each team. Let’s take a look at what is left for all four teams in the division.

Denver: It has been a light offseason for the division champions. The Broncos must now replace offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who took over as the Chargers’ head coach Tuesday. Among the potential replacements are former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt (if he doesn’t get a head coaching job), former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen and Denver quarterback coach Adam Gase.

Kansas City: The Chiefs have moved fast. Coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey are in place and much of the staff is in place. Among the potential coaches who could join the staff are Brad Childress (senior offensive assistant) and Tony Sparano (offensive line).

Oakland: The Raiders have four assistant openings -- offensive coordinator, special teams, offensive line and linebackers coach. The only coaches reportedly interviewed in a very quiet process have been Mike Martz (OC) and Juan Castillo (OL), while there has been rumbling that Marc Trestman and Greg Olson could be offensive coordinator candidates. I think one name to keep an eye on for that job could be Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.

San Diego: McCoy will likely keep the defensive staff together while hiring several other assistant coaches, including a new offensive coordinator.

 

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 24, Colts 9

January, 6, 2013
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Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 24-9 wild-card game loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: An improbable season is now over. Under new leadership and with huge roster turnover, the Colts found their way to 11 wins and a playoff berth. The rookie season of quarterback Andrew Luck and a talented first-year class has come to a close. The Ravens advance to a divisional-round game in Denver.

What I didn’t like: The red zone performance by the offense was simply insufficient. The Colts could not find an avenue into the end zone, as the Ravens forced Indianapolis to settle for four field goal attempts. Adam Vinatieri hit the first three. The pass coverage couldn’t contain Anquan Boldin in the second half, and his touchdown catch was spectacular. He simply muscled the ball in even though nickel corner Darius Butler had an arm in position to break it up. They allowed too many big plays overall. Indy’s pass protection allowed far too much pressure and far too many hits on Luck, who also suffered as a result of some drops. Luck couldn’t find his late-game magic in this one, as Cary Williams grabbed a defended pass for a fourth-quarter pick -- Luck’s first interception in his past 150 throws, per CBS.

What I liked: Luck never wavered in the face of constant pressure and delivered a lot of big throws given the circumstances. Rookie running back Vick Ballard continued to make gains in vision and production. Though he failed to corral a fourth-down pass just before the two-minute warning. (Terrell Suggs of the Ravens paused at the Colts' sideline to give Chuck Pagano a big hug right after that.)

Next man up: Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who did such good work as the team’s interim coach for the bulk of the year, was sick and taken to a hospital before the game. Quarterback coach Clyde Christensen called the game in Arians' absence. The Colts offered assurances he was going to be fine.

What’s next: After some time wondering what if, the Colts need to spend the offseason building the roster. Indianapolis needs significant help on the offensive line, on the defensive line and in the secondary. Arians is expected to interview for the open head-coaching jobs in Chicago and Philadelphia. Replacing him would be a tall order for Pagano.
Heading into the Colts season finale against the Texans, Andrew Luck had failed to connect on 50 percent of his passes in four consecutive games.

In the win against Houston in the regular-season finale last Sunday, he connected on exactly half his passes.

He was generally more accurate, and made the plays Indianapolis needed to win the game.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireColts quarterback Andrew Luck has shown he can be dangerous when he has good protection.
Much has been made of his completion percentage (54.1) and interceptions (18) this season. Those are not good numbers, but he’s regularly done things to overcome them.

I was struck on Sunday by two passes he threw in a very difficult circumstance: On third-and-13 from the Colts' 30-yard line early in the fourth quarter, he dropped back, had time and stepped into a great throw to Reggie Wayne for a 24-yard gain. It was called back because of a hold against left tackle Anthony Castonzo.

Given a second chance on third-and-23, Luck got quality protection again, stepped into a throw again and connected deep to T.Y. Hilton for a 70-yard touchdown.

Back-to-back throws, good protection both times (aided by a hold on the first), Luck was able to really step into them and they were excellent.

How many of his 14 incomplete passes resulted from an inability to step into a throw?

There is a degree of subjectivity in assessing what happened on a play. Here is my breakdown of the incomplete passes:

  • Hurried or hit – 5
  • Drops -- 3
  • Thrown away – 2
  • Defended by DB -- 2
  • No issue -- 1
  • Batted -- 1

Those five hurries or hits certainly affected Luck’s ability to be accurate. He overthrew Donnie Avery, he bounced a ball to Wayne.

These are situations every quarterback faces, of course. Luck tends to hold on to the ball extra at times to try to make something happen, knowing he can handle some jostling or even absorb a hit in exchange for extending a play.

“Luck is already one of the best quarterbacks around at keeping his eyes downfield and moving within the confines of the pocket, which is amazing for a rookie -- and lucky for him, because the Colts' line is obviously pretty bad," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "But Bruce Arians does help the line out, and they obviously go deep a ton. Luck has the natural abilities to throw well even when his feet are not set, but like you mentioned, Luck might be lethal if he actually had adequate time to throw more consistently in their downfield attack.”

The issue Luck’s had recently throwing high seemed to have settled down in this game.

He was blitzed a great deal by the Texans, but not, incidentally on the third-and-23.

It’s basic for any good quarterback: Protect him well and the odds of a good result improve.

Still, I imagine Arians, offensive line coach Harold Goodwin and quarterback coach Clyde Christensen showed that Luck-to-Hilton touchdown pass, and even the one to Wayne, to the entire offense.

See how assertively Luck was able to step into his throw? See the quality result? If we can give him a chance at more plays like that Sunday in Baltimore, we can be playing in the divisional round a week later.
ANDERSON, Ind. -- Quick hits from my first half-day with the Colts, out of a long practice and some interviews afterward.

  • [+] EnlargeColts wide receiver Reggie Wayne
    Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.comColts wide receiver Reggie Wayne works with the pass catching machine at Colts camp. Follow Paul Kuharsky on Instagram at pkuharsky.
    Yes, it’s a snap judgment -- camp practice reports are filled with such snapshots. But everything I’ve read and heard about Andrew Luck was on display. He’s got great command of the offense considering how long he’s been running it. I tweeted that and got hammered by some for anointing him. Of course we need to see him against better defenses that are more unfamiliar. But what we see now is all we have, and all we have is pretty good. I did feel like he sputtered towards the end of a long practice, when he put two balls too low in a red zone period -- one to T.Y. Hilton at the goal post (which rolled to me) and another short one low and behind Reggie Wayne. But after those he made a beautiful throw to Austin Collie in stride as he angled to the front left corner of the end zone with corner Brandon King nearby. It’s easy to say it, but Luck’s mannerisms and execution do remind one a bit of Peyton Manning -- he does the quick pump fake as he drops back, he’s got a little hop, etc.
  • There were a lot of short throws by all the QBs. I don’t know if the coverage dictated it or if it was the stuff they were focusing on today or if there was any big meaning to it. But the ball was out quickly for steady, if small, chunks of yardage. And guys were getting the ball with a chance to turn and look to find additional yards.
  • Wayne working on a Jugs machine is something to behold -- I watched his session after practice and got a couple decent pictures. It’s mesmerizing in a Zamboni-like fashion, but there is obviously a lot more variance. He takes balls from one side, then the other, then straight on. He catches with both hands. He makes sure they are coming at difficult angles that force him to make the sort of tough plays he’ll see in game situations.
  • Early quarterback work I liked: Working on their own with QB coach Clyde Christensen, they took drops into a corridor of the other two QBs, two coaches and a couple equipment guys. They slapped and poked at him while he dropped and as he moved back up in the “pocket” before making a throw.
  • During early special teams, Robert Mathis spent a bit of time on his own working on his drops into coverage. Not long after, linebackers and defensive backs covered tight ends and running backs in a one-on-one period. Mathis covered rookie Coby Fleener on the first snap, stayed on his hip and picked off Drew Stanton’s throw.
  • Rookie running back Vick Ballard made a nice cach in the back left corner of the end zone in the same period, despite tight coverage from linebacker Scott Lutrus, who never turned to find the ball.
  • I planned on my initial bite of the apple here to be on veteran receiver Donnie Avery. He had a big chance with the Titans last year when Kenny Britt went down and couldn’t work his way onto the field. Now he’s drawing a lot of praise and sounds like he could factor into the mix for Luck and the Colts. Alas, he made a sprawling catch for a long TD from Luck (120 yards away from where I was, so it was hard to see) and landed badly. He was taken off the field with a left leg injury. Sounds like he will have an MRI, but coach Chuck Pagano promised “it’s nothing major, I know that.”
  • I spent three and a half days with the Jaguars last week and found it hard to judge the offense , which looked bad, because of the talent on the team’s defense. It may be the opposite here – it may be hard to judge the offense, which looks good, because of the lack of talent on the team’s defense -- especially at corner. Justin King, who’s been running with the ones, has a hip flexor and missed his third day.
  • Antonio Johnson, the team’s front-line nose tackle, said he’s up to 330 pounds from 320 but feels like he’s running around just the same.
  • More to come on this, but tight end Dwayne Allen is very good. Fits right in with what they are trying to do. Looks like a natural for this offense. A bright guy. His play and our chat is worth its own post. Stay tuned.

More on how Andrew Luck looked

March, 23, 2012
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Some thoughts that came out of Andrew Luck's pro day Thursday at Stanford.
    Luck
    Luck
  • He confirmed he’ll have a private session with Colts' officials at Stanford in early April, Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star reported. That explains why GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano didn’t feel they had to be there.
  • Colts quarterback coach Clyde Christensen told Chappell the workout looked like Luck’s game film, steady and solid. He also talked about Luck vs., Robert Griffin III: "I don't think you go wrong either way. You go back and forth and keep looking for something that you can put a little red mark, that they can't do this or can't do that, that maybe there's something (wrong) character-wise. And you can't find one on either kid.”
  • ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said the session was “surgical,” and praised Luck’s consistent ball placement that gets receivers right where he wants them.
  • Steve Young praised the athleticism and, especially, his feet. With Luck, the whole playbook will be open, “guard rail to guard rail.”
  • Trent Dilfer said Luck’s ability to make “off-platform throws” is unique.
  • RG3 had a great pro day too. Players are supposed to look great on their pro days. We’re entering the season where we will begin to hear a lot about why the conventional thinking that Luck is a better choice than Griffin is flawed. It makes for compelling TV and reading. But I like what Matt Williamson from Scouts Inc. is saying. He loves Griffin and he loves the Redskins' trade to the second slot in the draft. But he says the Baylor quarterback has reached his ceiling, and that ceiling is No. 2 in the draft.

Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star provides some good information from Andrew Luck's pro day here.

Most significantly, Chappell says that a day after they were part of the Colts contingent at Robert Griffin III’s pro day at Baylor, GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano were not in Palo Alto, Calif.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireThe Colts' representatives at Andrew Luck's pro day workout were QB coach Clyde Christensen and scout Matt Terpening.
The team’s representatives were quarterback coach Clyde Christensen and area scout Matt Terpening.

I think it would be presumptuous to jump to any sort of conclusions about the top guys in Indy’s brain trust missing Luck’s workout.

As I wrote this morning, there is a sense among some scouts that the session was “a mere formality.”

The duo could have been trying to avoid the sort of attention that would have been on them watching a workout that’s open to the press when they can soon watch tape of it. As Luck’s presumed team, the Colts may have drawn a great deal of attention on the Stanford campus. They avoided Chappell, for one.

Grigson and Pagano may have felt they didn't need to see Luck throw live based on a report from their scouts or because they plan for him to throw during a visit to their facility that we don’t know about yet. Grigson may have seen Luck throw live multiple times last season. It’s unlikely Pagano did. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t see Luck throw at some point before the draft.

They could be trying to fuel the idea that RG3 is making a serious charge for the No. 1 pick in order to prompt a reaction from someone else, like the Redskins. They hold the No. 2 pick, though I don’t know what sort of reaction could help the Colts.

How did Luck look?

Mike Mayock of NFL Network had good things to say about Luck’s arm strength and performance in the wind.
Andrew LuckAP Photo/Michael ConroyAndrew Luck said he would be happy holding a clipboard and being Peyton Manning's apprentice.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The two quarterbacks who will presumably be the top two picks in the NFL draft spoke to a good share of 750 credentialed reporters at the combine Friday afternoon.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III didn’t take a drop, make a read or throw a pass. Nothing that transpired had anything to do with football.

Yet fandom's need for information and evaluation will dictate a comparison, and here’s what will fuel it: Griffin was off the cuff, glib and quippy; Luck was boilerplate, personable for sure, but not as entertaining.

And so, the buzz from the scouting community that had long held that Griffin is a very good NFL prospect but Luck is a great one will now be tempered. Media will be influenced by what it just saw and heard and the gap between the two will close through no football function at all.

Think I overstate? A year ago we raced back to our laptops to write about how Ryan Mallett was defiant and how Cam Newton needed a scripted opening statement, unimpressed with either. And at least for a time the national stories on each influenced the national perception -- unfairly and, to be honest, inaccurately.

Brace for the 2012 version of that, starting right now. Measure it. And know that scouts are largely scoffing when they see it.

A few more thoughts out of Luck’s media session:

• At one end of the media room, a club level concourse at Lucas Oil Stadium, the pillars are decorated with pictures of Peyton Manning. It’s made for great art -- Manning looming over John Elway or Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. But Luck didn’t speak from the shadow of the legendary quarterback he may replace. He was at the other end of the room -- where photos of Gary Brackett and Marvin Harrison are part of the backdrop.

• Luck spoke fondly of Manning as he answered a question about the potential for replacing him: “Peyton was my hero growing up, he was my football hero. Who I modeled myself after in high school and middle school. You never truly replace a guy like that and who knows what happens? Who knows what happens? So many different things can happen. I’m not thinking about it.”

• The questions about Manning are inevitable, he said. “I understand the questions have to be asked, it’s part of it. I understand the speculation. In my mind too, nothing’s happened yet. I haven’t been drafted by any team and what Peyton has is still going on with the Colts. It’s not uncomfortable, I understand the questions have to be asked."

• Luck knows Manning some. He’s been to the family’s passing camp the past two summers. He sought out Manning when he was deciding to return to Stanford for his senior year. He got a few texts from Manning during the season. Griffin had said he’d be happy to hold a clipboard as Manning’s apprentice and Luck echoed the sentiment.

• He praised Griffin as “a great quarterback, a great competitor, real easy to get along with” but said he wasn’t motivated to compete against him for the No. 1 draft position. “I think everybody wants to be No. 1 but not at the expense of another person, if that makes sense,” he said.

• While he’s heard some call him a once-in-a-generation quarterback, Luck said things can change and he needs to pay no attention to such talk: “The game can change so quick and you can get caught behind whatever that is.”

• His current efforts are focused on quickening everything up, making “rhythmic, perfect drops every time” and playing super clean.

• Elway visits Stanford roughly twice a year and Luck has visited with him on those occasions. The biggest lesson he took away was what Elway told him about the Broncos' Super Bowl failures early in his career: “They were thinking too big picture. So it was always, ‘focus on that next play. What are you going to do the first play of the game?’”

• Luck's aware of the success his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, had as quarterback of the Colts -- mentioning Harbaugh’s “Captain Comeback” nickname and acknowledging Harbaugh’s spot in the Colts’ ring of honor.

• His meetings Thursday night included a stop with the Colts. He spoke with Clyde Christensen, the team’s receivers coach who was offensive coordinator under the previous regime.

• He’s still got two classes to take to earn his degree from Stanford. He’ll return starting April 1 and graduate in June.

• The quarterback will not throw here, but said no outside force influenced that decision. It has been reported his camp asked the Colts and suggested he not throw. He will do everything else while he’s in Indy.
Peyton Manning has spoken of all the people disappearing from the Indianapolis Colts' headquarters.

As Chuck Pagano puts his coaching staff together, six more Colts could soon be former Colts. Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, assistant to the offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, tight ends coach Ricky Thomas, running backs coach David Walker, assistant offensive line coach Ron Prince and assistant strength and conditioning coach Richard Howell remain under contract, flapping in the breeze.

Most significant among them is Christensen, who really ranks as the one prominent remaining link to Manning.

Pagano is a defensive guy, and his decision on offensive coordinator will be gigantic considering that coach will be the central figure in the development of Andrew Luck, the quarterback the Colts will draft with the No. 1 overall pick barring some crazy development.

It’s hard to imagine Christensen would be that guy, and parting with the guy who’s been the Colts’ coordinator for the past two seasons would in many ways be the final piece of a transition. From 2002-07 Christensen was Indianapolis’ wide receivers coach and in 2008 he had an assistant head coach title added. Then he took over for Tom Moore in the sort of transition the Colts set up for with their older coaches under Tony Dungy and then Jim Caldwell.

Christensen is continuity for Manning, one last presence from the old guard, one remaining significant connection to the offense he’s been running his whole career.

Of the six remaining assistants, I suspect a few remain became of their contracts. Cooter was in his first year in his role in 2011, Walker was in his first year with the team and Prince was in his second.

With 10 seasons in Indianapolis, Christensen ranks second to only Howell among the remaining staff.

When Pagano makes a move at offensive coordinator, odds are he will cut the last significant tie to Manning’s offense.

Then the only move left to be made by the Colts pertaining to their new era will be with Manning himself.
The first reaction many Colts fans will have to the news that Chuck Pagano is the team’s new coach will undoubtedly be: “Who?”

But not knowing a guy doesn’t make him a bad choice.

[+] EnlargeChuck Pagano
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireThe Indianapolis Colts have hired Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as head coach.
Owner Jim Irsay tabbed a young personnel executive, Ryan Grigson, as his new general manager. Now the two have selected Pagano, who just finished his first season as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, as their coach.

He’s been with the Ravens since 2008, with stints in Cleveland and Oakland before that.

Pagano and Grigson now set about contributing to a decision on Peyton Manning, who seems likely to be released before a $28 million bonus is due March 8, and deciding on how to use the No. 1 pick in the April draft, which is likely to be used on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

The two biggest questions I have for Pagano are about his schemes and his staff.

He’s not inheriting a defense with Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis, but that doesn’t mean he can’t set about shaping a unit that plays a far different style than the undersized-but-speedy Cover 2 the Colts have rolled out for years.

Will he want to transform the team into a 3-4 like the one he’s leaving, or will he look at the best players he will have, like Dwight Freeney, Antoine Bethea and Pat Angerer, and decide not to make a dramatic change? And on offense, will he want to go forward with the sort of smaller linemen, receiver-like tight end and three-wide sets popularized in the Manning era, or be a more balanced and more powerful offense?

As for his assistants, he’s surely made friends in his three NFL stops. He’ll have a chance to retain some Colts who have not been let go yet, like offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, assistant offensive line coach Ron Prince, quarterback coach Jim Bob Cooter, tight ends coach Ricky Thomas, running backs coach David Walker, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Richard Howell. Grigson parted with Jim Caldwell and most of the staff, and I’d expect Pagano to finish that job.

He will need to do a lot of hiring, and the quality of the people he is able to attract will be a big factor in how successful the Colts can be.

An offensive coordinator who will have a big say in the scheme, and a giant hand in developing Luck, is going to be a huge piece in the new regime.

We’ll start trying to connect some dots from him to people he might try to bring in. One guy he knows is former Raiders coach Hue Jackson, who has yet to land a job and could be viewed as a creative offensive mind who can develop a young quarterback.
Clyde Christensen talked with the Indianapolis media Friday and I sifted through the piece of it the team shared.

A few things of note.

He was asked about helping Kerry Collins learn the whole playbook in three weeks.

“It would be impossible,” he said. “We have been working at a doctorate level around here because things have stayed so intact, scheme wise and quarterback wise. He is a veteran guy. You can’t throw up a concept that he hasn’t done some place, some time, somewhere. He understands football, so he understands those concepts. It is more the communication of it. It is more the protections. It is more of those things with him then it is him having to learn new things. He has seen it all, but it is just an awful short time so we will just kind of work to his pace, what he feels comfortable with.

According to Christensen, working both quarterbacks last week in the days that Manning practiced amounted to diluting the work for both quarterbacks.

“This week was a little bit easier just in the sense that we knew we needed to get Kerry ready to go and just adjust the best we can,” he said. “We have always had a thorough system. We have always done less and tried to do it better. So it helps when you try and do less. We are not overly [voluminous]. We know what we do so we just tweak it and everyone is going to have to kick in and help a little bit.”

Less is best seems to be a major theme, and it fits. People often think that what the Colts do is complicated. It’s not. Defenses always talk about how the Colts are straightforward on offense, they do specific stuff very precisely and well, over and over.

“Let’s error on starting smaller and you can always build up,” Christensen said in response to a question about Collins learning hand signals. “You can’t afford to go in there and it be a mess and not know what we are doing.”

One more item on the Colts’ offense…

I didn’t get to this earlier this week in the piece about Frank Reich and Tennessee’s Dave Ragone as quarterbacks-turned receivers coaches.

Jim Caldwell said this in our conversation about flipping Reich to wideouts and Ron Turner from receivers to quarterbacks:

“[Turner] has been a coordinator. It allows me to utilize Turner a little more. I like to keep him looking at things from a little broader scope.”

I couldn't decide if that was loaded with meaning or not. What do you think?
TBDBrian Spurlock/US PresswireWhat are the biggest issues facing the Colts in the absence of star quarterback Peyton Manning?
Ten questions worth pondering about the Colts without Peyton Manning:

1. Who’s under the most pressure?

The obvious answer is Kerry Collins, but if the expectations are unreasonable for the 39-year-old quarterback, that’s not on him. He can still be effective, but consistency is an issue and he tends to start games slowly. That’s a problem for the Colts, who are built to jump to leads and let defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis pursue quarterbacks who are trying to throw to catch up. Those successful two-minute drills that Manning has run at the end of a half or a game won't happen as often with Collins.

2. What will we learn about Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen?

Jokes about Manning coaching the team tend to be over the top. But he certainly makes more pre-snap decisions on the field than any other quarterback in the league. Even if Collins winds up making some of those reads and determinations, Caldwell and Christensen must show they can plan effectively for him in a way they weren’t always responsible for with Manning at the controls.

3. Is the line ready to play better?

A lot of people not that familiar with how the Colts play look at the sack numbers (16 allowed in 2010) and judge Indianapolis to be one of the league’s best pass-protecting offensive lines. It’s not. The Colts spent their top two draft picks on offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. Castonzo is slated to start at left tackle, and left guard Joe Reitz has not played in an NFL regular-season game. Ryan Diem appears to be moving from right tackle to right guard as Jeff Linkenbach, undrafted last year, takes Diem’s long-time spot. Collectively, the group must offer Collins reliable protection and block more effectively for a running game that must do more.

4. How does Collins handle blitzes and pass pressure?

[+] EnlargeKerry Collins
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesColts quarterback Kerry Collins has issues with consistency and starting slow.
Teams typically paid for blitzing Manning, but defenses will certainly try to do more to get to Collins. He didn’t move well when he was younger, and it’s certainly not a big piece of his game now. He’s not afraid to throw it away and live for another day. And former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who coached Collins the past five years in Tennessee and game-planned against the Colts twice a year from 2002 through 2010, said Indianapolis will be equipped to counter extra blitz pressure with screens to Joseph Addai.

5. Who has a chance to shine?

Even if Manning were around, I expected the Colts to try to get the ball to rookie running back Delone Carter in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He’s different than fellow running backs Addai and Donald Brown and seems like a player who can find a tough yard even when things don’t get blocked as they should. That offensive line can get a lot of attention if it plays well. And Brody Eldridge, more of a blocking tight end, could see more time if the Colts feel like they must sacrifice three-wide sets for additional protection or run-game help.

6. Can the defense help more?

As we mentioned, it’s a team built to pass rush against an offense that must throw. The Colts have not been a good run-stopping team and the defense didn’t fare well at it in the preseason. Indianapolis is slated to face a bunch of top-level backs. We could see two veteran additions at end, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton, get chances to contribute on run downs and help keep Freeney and Mathis fresher to rush. Rookie tackle Drake Nevis can help too. Overall, the philosophy of limiting big plays and making teams move it a little at a time has worked well enough. It’s not like they can make a dramatic change in it now.

7. What about special teams?

It’s been a neglected area for much of the Manning era. The offense is good at driving the ball down the field and doesn’t often get a good return to set up field position. While Manning makes big dollars, so do the team’s other stars: Freeney, Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea. Dedicating a lot of pay to that core means the team doesn’t have a lot of veteran backups, and veteran backups make up the backbone of good special teams units. This also is an area where things can’t really be changed because they are dictated by personnel.

8. What if Collins goes down?

Curtis Painter, a sixth-round draft pick from Purdue in 2009, is the third quarterback. The team is very defensive about him, but it’s an organization that works very hard to defend draft picks. But the fact is, in his limited regular-season action and in the preseason, Painter has been ineffective. If the Colts lost their backup quarterback and had to turn to Painter, they’d be in giant trouble. I can’t see Indianapolis going after another veteran now. David Garrard, released by the Jaguars this week, should find a job better than what the Colts might have to offer. I don’t see Indy being interested in him anyway.

9. Will the offense slow down?

As experienced and as wily as Collins may be, it’s difficult to imagine him being able to play at Manning’s pace, snapping the ball to catch defenses with too many men on the field or flapping his arms while changing, or pretending to change, what’s about to unfold. The Colts, however, benefit from locking defenses into personnel groupings. If Indy doesn’t huddle or take the time to substitute, the opponent can’t either. Whether they can, or want to try to, maintain that as an advantage remains to be seen. If they huddle more, they allow defenses to adjust more, too.

10. If the season is a total bomb, would they want Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the draft?

The deal Manning just signed is for five years. But if Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian had a chance at a guy who’s regarded as the best college quarterback to come out since, perhaps, Manning, I don’t see how the Colts wouldn’t take him and let him learn under Manning. But a four-year wait for Luck to play couldn’t happen either, and the Colts would have to craft a long-term plan.

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