Commentary

A dichotomy of brains and brawn

Colts QB Andrew Luck combines intellect and scrappiness in his second pro year

Updated: October 4, 2013, 4:21 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Andrew LuckJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesSomeone forgot to apprise Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to presuppose a sophomore slump.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bet me. No QB in the NFL is more accurate, goes deeper or is more effective than the Colts' Andrew Luck.

And that's just his vocabulary.

Wednesday, for instance, in a single half hour, he got in "vociferous" (re: loudmouth, loud-playing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who brings undefeated Seattle to Indy Sunday), "cognizant" (was he aware of big moments as he's making them? no, he wasn't), and "implemented" (he was glad to see some more running plays being "implemented" into the Colts' game plan.)

A 3.48 GPA at Stanford in environmental engineering will do that to a person.

"The other day he used 'paucity' on us," says his backup, Matt Hasselbeck. "And 'chutzpah.' How many people in this locker room even know what chutzpah is?"

"The guy just comes at you all day long with the SAT words," punter Pat McAfee complains. "I tell him, 'You know I'm dumber than you. You don't have to rub it in all the time.'"

You'd need a thesaurus to describe Luck this season, one in which he has pulled ahead of Second-Year Sensations Robert Griffin III (Washington), Russell Wilson (Seattle) and Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco) the way a locomotive pulls away from uncoupled cars.

RG III has been tentative and apprehensive. Wilson is undefeated, true, but his numbers have been anemic. Since Week 2, Kaepernick has looked dispassionate and feckless.

Luck's play meanwhile has been ...

... ameliorated. His completion percentage is up almost 10 points over his rookie year. He has had only two interceptions in four games. (Last season, he had five through the fourth game.) He's running better and more daringly than last season (almost twice as many yards per carry as last season). He has already won a game from behind (Oakland) and already won a signature game at San Francisco (that's 14 W's in his first 20 starts, tying the record for No. 1 draft choices set by another Stanford kid, John Elway.)

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsIntellectual Andrew Luck also luxuriates in the physical aspects of the game.

... surpassing. Luck is third in ESPN's QBR. Where are the rest of the Second-Year Sensations? Way, way further back. Kaepernick is 13th, Wilson 17th, RG III 30th. And that's to be expected. You're supposed to have a sophomore slump. (See: Bradford, Sam.) Defensive coordinators have had an entire offseason to come up with a vaccine for you. That's what's confounding about Luck. In a season when he was supposed to get a little worse, like everybody else, he has only gotten a lot better.

... intractable. His teammates keep telling him to get down on runs, to slide, to head for the safety of the sideline, but he is as stubborn as a boulder. Players around the league report that Hard Luck seems to actually enjoy an organ-shifting hit. Even compliments defenders on a good hit occasionally.

"I think there's a little part of most football players who enjoy the aspect of getting hit," he says with a grin. "I know in games, sometimes it's good to get that first hit and say, 'OK, now you're in a football game.' After that, no (laughs)."

No, no, it's not good any time. Yet he seems addicted to it. One game, he went on one of his intrepid slashes through the defense, got the first down, then kept going. Whereupon, he got rocked.

On the field, veteran receiver Reggie Wayne immediately took Luck aside and said, 'Dang, you got to get down! When you made the first down, you won. You won. Get down and live to win another battle!"

And what did Luck say back to him?

"I said what I always say to him, 'Yes, Mr. Wayne. Good point, Mr. Wayne.'"

Luck will wind up being the gold standard of the doozy QB draft class of 2012, but only if he stops polishing his Roger Staubach impression.

It drives Hasselbeck crazy. "I told him, 'Would you please protect yourself? Because I didn't get any reps this week. And I don't want to look bad out there.'"

That's the baffling thing about this son of two law school graduates. Luck's the oddest combination of lobes and lats. He's both brains and brawn. He doesn't just crack the safe, he then picks it up and carries it out of the bank.

"I call him the 'coolest nerd in America,'" says Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. "He's really kind of nerdy -- so smart -- and yet somehow, he's really cool at the same time."

Typical Luck story: 

One day this offseason, he invited Hasselbeck to go to a soccer game with him. Hasselbeck, a father of three, said he couldn't. Too much stuff to do. The next week, he asked Luck how the soccer game was.

"Oh, it was cool," Luck said. "It was in London."

Typical Luck nerdcoolness:

There's a 12-acre corn maze in Waterloo, Ind., that's carved in his likeness. Is that a little lame? Or kind of tight?

Me, I think the kid is the best No. 1 pick to hit the league since Peyton Manning. I also think Luck should've been the rookie of the year last season, instead of RG III, and I said so. But I'll bet you a Porsche to a Porsche hubcap that he's the MVP before any of the others.

How's that for chutzpah?

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com