Stanford Football: Steve Young

More pressure: Luck or Griffin?

June, 18, 2012
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Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com presented an interesting opinion last week regarding ex-Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Jeremiah's take was that former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who bested Luck in the Heisman vote but was No. 2 in the draft to Luck's No. 1, has more pressure on him than Luck does in 2012.

He bases his opinion on the following reasons:

  1. Griffin will be expected to lead his team to more victories.
  2. The NFC East is far tougher than the AFC South.
  3. RG3 is in a bigger media market.
[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck, Robert Griffin
AP Photo/Richard DrewBoth top draft pick Andrew Luck, left, and No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III are under tremendous pressure.
Jeremiah adds a few final thoughts to his argument -- including the fact that RG3's presence actually takes the pressure off of Luck.
In my opinion, Robert Griffin III is the best thing that ever happened to Andrew Luck. Just nine months ago, it was widely thought that Luck would enter the NFL with more hype than any player in the last decade. Now, it's likely that he won't even receive the same attention in his rookie season as another quarterback in his own draft class. Sharing the spotlight with another player will help ease the pressure on Luck and allow him to focus on simply improving day by day.

To each his own, but the expectations for Luck are so ridiculously astronomical (not unlike last season) that it's going to be almost impossible for him to live up to them -- at least in the immediate future.

No one has labeled Griffin "the best quarterback to enter the draft since Peyton Manning" or "the best prospect since John Elway." Griffin is drawing comparisons to Michael Vick, Luck to Elway. All due respect to Vick -- but he doesn't belong in the same breath as Elway.

Luck has been handling the pressure for the past two years -- from Heisman expectations to his decision to return for another season. And maybe it's the aw-shucks way Luck handles the media that you never realize exactly how much pressure is truly on him.

And the fact that he has to follow Manning -- who will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game -- adds an entirely different element of pressure that Griffin won't have to experience. Heavy lies the head of he who replaces Rex Grossman. Puh-lease.

Sometimes, guys are able to overcome that. See: Young, Steve. Others, not so much. See: Griese, Brian.

Jeremiah's points are all well-taken, specifically the NFC East being a tougher conference. No disputes there. But while Griffin might be expected to lead his team to more victories in 2012, Luck is expected to lead his team to more Super Bowl victories over the span of his career. And that pressure starts in Year 1.

Since 1993, four quarterbacks have been taken with the No. 2 overall pick: Griffin, Donovan McNabb (1999), Ryan Leaf (1998) and Rick Mirer (1993). In that same span, 13 quarterbacks have gone No. 1 overall. By default, being the No. 1 pick carries more pressure and loftier assumptions.

Both will face a heavy dose of scrutiny, and their careers will forever be linked because they were Nos. 1 and 2 in the draft. But Luck's top-pick status, the guy he's following in Indianapolis and the weighty expectations for a Hall of Fame career place a heavier burden on Luck's shoulders in 2012 and beyond.

Two NFL MVPs chat about Luck

December, 31, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Stanford head coach David Shaw knows quarterbacks. For nine years in the NFL, he studied them, analyzed them and broke down every tangible mechanic and intangible characteristic trait there is.

So when he says he's never seen anyone like Andrew Luck -- specifically, a college quarterback with the intelligence to read defenses the way he does and call plays -- you have to consider him a credible source.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Paul Connors"I applaud him for being able to do it," former NFL quarterback Brian Sipe says of Andrew Luck calling plays for Stanford, "and for the coaches who are willing to give him that responsibility."
But he's also biased. Like any good coach, he sticks up for his guy. Pumps him up. Some have even accused Shaw of over-inflating his future No. 1 draft pick.

So to get unbiased sources, I looked to a pair of former NFL MVP quarterbacks from two different eras -- Steve Young and Brian Sipe -- for their take on Luck and the significance of a college football player calling his own plays. Young, a Hall of Famer, spent years carving up defenses just up the road from Palo Alto with the San Francisco 49ers.

And he knows a little something about the Stanford offense. It derives from the Bill Walsh offense Young ran with San Francisco. It's not identical, but as a Walsh disciple, Shaw kept many of the same principles.

Much is made about what Luck does pre-snap. He has a playbook of 250 plays each week in his mental Rolodex and he can pull from anything at any time. That's an awful lot to heap on a college kid. And the fact that Luck does it with amazing results is tangible, empiric evidence of his football IQ and NFL potential.

“What I appreciate is what [offensive coordinator] Pep Hamilton has done for Andrew, continuing what Jim Harbaugh did. They have really prepared him like a pro,” said Young, a two-time NFL MVP. “They do pro game plans with pro verbiage and pro schemes. They can’t push some of the other kids as much, because they don’t have the experience. But they find ways to keep Andrew motivated. Calling his own plays, creating his own plays, putting more responsibility on him keeps him focused and sharp.”

Sipe, now the quarterbacks coach with San Diego State, played during a transitional era -- spanning a time when all quarterbacks called their own plays to a time when none of them did. Sipe was one of the last to still make the calls in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.

“[Luck] is obviously very intelligent and we know it can be done,” said the 1980 NFL MVP. “What’s shocking to me is that there is a coaching staff out there comfortable enough to relinquish that kind of responsibility. If we prepare these kids right, they know what we’re trying to do and they should be able to do it. But at the same time, they don’t have the luxury of all the information and data in front of them. I understand why coaches prefer to call their own plays from the sidelines and the press box. I applaud them for having that confidence in him.”

That confidence comes from trust. Shaw said he knew early on he’d be able to take this leap with Luck -- and when Luck announced he was returning for another year and Shaw was promoted from offensive coordinator, the two clicked.

“As soon as I got the job, the first thing I said was 'Andrew, we’re going back to the no-huddle,' and there was a big smile on his face,” Shaw recalled. “He and I have both loved the idea from the beginning, and he’s so good at it. It took a little bit of time, but he’s a rare quarterback that can handle this.”

Luck said they tinkered with the idea early in his career, but not until he proved he was ready to handle the extra responsibility did they start integrating his play calling into the game plan.

“Experience is a big part of it, and showing the coaches that you can execute their plan on the field,” Luck said. “As a player, obviously it’s great to know your coaches trust you. To go out there and make the call and know they are behind you, that’s special.”

Sipe said he enjoyed being able to call his own plays -- though he understands the game has evolved.

“As a quarterback, I felt like I had a feel for the game that could only come from being out on the field and being in the huddle with the guys and being close to it,” Sipe said. “But at the same time I recognize the benefit of having data at your fingertips and hearing from everybody else. When you’re out there, you are on your own and have to process it all … you have to think like an offensive coordinator, and I applaud him for being able to do it and for the coaches who are willing to give him that responsibility.”

Chances are, Luck won’t be calling his own plays at the next level. Young said the pro game has changed so much that quarterbacks actually calling their own plays could be detrimental.

“I think it’s almost foolish -- like you’re not a real man if you don’t call your own plays,” Young said, the second part tongue in cheek. “Good play-callers like Marty Mornhinweg or Mike Holmgren or Mike Shanahan, the all-timer -- in some ways the last thing you want to be doing is taking them out of the mix. I had free range to call whatever I wanted. But I liked calling their combinations. I think it’s overrated a little bit in the pro game. Drew Brees could call his own plays. But Sean Payton can put together great combinations. I don’t see it as a badge of honor.

“But in college, the way Stanford uses it for Andrew, I think it’s really great. It’s the perfect way to keep him active and keep him sharp.”

It's when pulling those combinations together, Shaw said, that Luck is at his best.

"That's a big part of understanding the situations -- what do we need on second-and-5 as opposed to second-and-10," Shaw said. "He gets it. We don't give him any guidelines. We put it in his hands and he gets it naturally.

"We wanted to make sure we were continually challenging him. Let's give him options. Let's make sure he always has something to study. Andrew has taken it to the next level."

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