While there were more than a few Peyton Manning jerseys worn among the approximately 7,500 Indianapolis Colts fans who swarmed Lucas Oil Stadium Wednesday afternoon, it’s a safe bet that all eyes were squarely on the new face of the franchise.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, sporting his red No. 12 practice jersey and a familiar partial beard, made his official on-the-field debut for fans during a two-hour mini-camp practice at the team’s home field.
Luck made his way through the workout unscathed, although he got off to a rather sluggish start during individual and positional drills. The former Stanford standout heated up, though, as the practice progressed. He ended the day completing 26 of 37 passes with a touchdown throw to wide receiver Austin Collie during a two-minute drill.
“We’ve got a lot of things accomplished [Wednesday], a lot of situational football and a lot of good things for our quarterbacks. I thought Andrew [Luck] did a phenomenal job, both quarterbacks [Drew Stanton and Luck] for that matter, in the two-minute drill,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said at the conclusion of the workout.
“I know there were some deep balls that [Luck] would probably like to have back, but I think that goes back to the chemistry and timing thing. Those things will come.”
There's no doubt that Luck is under the microscope from both fans and the media. His every move on the practice field is noted and judged.
For many of the team’'s most rabid fans, that judgement is based largely on what his predecessor – Manning – accomplished over the course of a celebrated career in Indianapolis. Few remember, however, how the four-time National Football League Most Valuable Player started out as a rookie in 1998 or how he did in his first practices prior to his first year in the league.
Manning had much smaller shoes to fill – Jim Harbaugh’s – than the extra-large ones Luck now finds himself trying on for size.
Pagano said one of the reasons that Luck started off Wednesday’s practice a bit slower than expected was due to the way the day’s practice was planned. But he is far from worried about his quarterback’s progress as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
“I think it goes with everything. The practice, the way that we had it set up, when you start and come out and get special teams knocked out, you do your [point after touchdown] and field goal stuff and then you have individual [drills],” the Colts’ first-year coach explained.
“I think it is on me more than anything else with the way we set the thing [practice] up. That is why he started a little bit slow. So once he got going, you could see he got into a rhythm and got the offense moving and generating some yards.”
Luck isn’t all that concerned either. He’s confident in his abilities, albeit quietly so. His biggest concern at the moment is trying to hone his timing with Indianapolis’ veterans receivers, such as Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery, Quan Cosby and Collie.
“Getting reps with those guys, whether it is one-on-one, reps on air or just standing there catching, is paramount. Just to get out here and throw and to see how he makes an adjustment is huge,” he readily admits.
“I think it helped that it wasn’t day one for us, but that is something that we will have to continue to work on though.”
To that end, Wayne wants to continue working with Luck once the mandatory mini-camp wraps up today.
“We have some work to do, but I like him. He’s got a great ball, nice spin on it. He’s confident. He’s having fun out there," he said Wednesday.
“He’s not totally serious and whenever you have your leading quarterback out there having fun, you have no choice but to lay out for him. So far so good. We have a long ways to go, but I like where we are heading.”
That includes a possibility that Wayne will follow Luck back to California at some point before the start of training camp.
"We've got the million-dollar man throwing the ball. There’s nothing better than that right now," he said.
“We’ll work something out [about practicing together this summer]. I don’t mind going to the West Coast. I’m so much down South and on the East Coast, so a West Coast trip is not bad. But then he’s going to make more trips to me than I am to him.”
Wayne is also ready to defend Luck against any possible detractors.
“I think you guys [the media] will get on him about the way he throws the ball. It’s kind of nonchalant, effortless. But he throws a pretty doggone good ball, man,” the five-time Pro Bowl selection voiced.
“He has a nice spiral to it, has some zip. He gets it there. He puts it in the right spot. So once we get all our timing down – [and] we’ll get that done before training camp and during training camp – we’ll have success.”