MICHAEL MAROT,AP Sports Writer
ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — Andrew Luck has already mastered the turnaround.
Now it’s time to manage those lofty expectations.
After leading the Colts to a nine-game improvement in a record-breaking rookie season, Luck has responded to the biggest question of training camp — what will he do for an encore? — in typical low-key style.
“Get the balls in the receivers’ and play-makers’ hands better. I’m not quite sure what my completion percentage was last year, but it wasn’t good enough,” he said. “When the ball gets into T.Y. (Hilton’s) or Reggie (Wayne’s) or Darrius (Heyward-Bey’s) hands, good things happen.”
Of course, the same could be said of Luck.
When he won the starting job at Stanford in 2009, he took over a program that had endured seven straight losing seasons.
All Luck did was lead the Cardinal to records of 8-5, 12-1 and 11-2 and take them to three straight bowl games for the first time since the 1930s.
The trend continued last season.
With Bruce Arians and Chuck Pagano calling the shots in Indy and critics waiting to see if Luck could live up to the hype of being the No. 1 overall pick, the rookie responded by taking a team that had gone 2-14 and was considered the worst in football back to the playoffs.
The Colts won 11 times, their highest win total since the 2009 Super Bowl run, and giving Luck the distinction of being one of only five quarterbacks since 1966 to win 11 games as a rookie.
He also wound up setting NFL rookie records for yards passing (4,374), attempts (627) and 300-yard games (six). He finished second all-time among NFL rookies in completions (339) and third in touchdown passes (23).
He tied the NFL’s overall mark for most game-winning drives in one season (seven). And when that wasn’t enough to earn the league’s rookie of the year award or win in the playoffs, Luck devoted himself to coming back a better quarterback. It starts by improving his completion rate (54.1) and reducing the interception total (18).
“When I walked away from that (playoff) loss, it was disappointing. You want to win. You want to keep going,” Luck said.
But the Colts don’t want rely solely on Luck.
So when Arians took his high-risk, high-reward offense to Arizona, Indy hired Luck’s college coordinator, Pep Hamilton, to run its offense. Hamilton has adopted a more conservative approach, blending the short, quick throws used in the West Coast Offense with a more traditional power-running game.
General manger Ryan Grigson did his part, too. He signed right tackle Gosder Cherilus from Detroit and guard Donald Thomas from New England to improve the offensive line that yielded 41 sacks last season. Grigson took two more linemen in the draft.
The Colts believe Luck can make it all work.
“With each experience and new experience, and each different game and environment he goes into, new hostile environment or whatever, they’re all learning experiences that are going to make him better in the end,” Grigson said. “We feel obviously good about Andrew Luck and where he’s going.”
It’s already been a very different start for Luck, who had an entire offseason to break down almost every snap he took last season.
He flew to South Florida to work out with Wayne, Hilton and LaVon Brazill and went back to California where he worked out with Heyward-Bey and former college teammate Griff Whalen.
He didn’t miss any of the team’s minicamp practices — a stark contrast to last spring when NFL rules forbid him from doing anything but the three-day rookie camp until finishing his college classes in June.
Since the Colts reported to training camp at Anderson University, a Division III school about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis, there have been no Peyton Manning questions.
Also gone is that steep learning curve that kept Luck up late, studying like he would for a final exam.
And instead of trying to figure out where everybody is on the field and where everything is off of it, Luck is playing it so cool, that he’s zipping balls through narrow windows and instructing golf cart drivers what direction to go on campus.
Clearly, he’s not a star pupil any more. He’s a respected teacher.
“There are a lot of guys leaning on Andrew right now. Not as much today as it was in the offseason,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “He needs to manage bad plays, manage the offense. He’s going to do those things.
“Eliminate the negative plays. We’re not going to try to waste plays. Andrew’s going to do his thing. Andrew’s going to run this thing and he’s going to make plays for us and obviously help us win football games.”
Winning games is the only thing that matters to Luck.
“The nice thing about this team is guys are hungry, the old guys, the young guys, the middle of the pack guys,” he said. “Whatever spot on the depth chart, it seems like guys have always been hungry to do better, to take a guy’s spot, to get on the field, to beat the other team, to win games.”
Notes: Rookie defensive tackle Montori Hughes and rookie tight end Justice Cunningham both left the afternoon practice with leg cramps. Nose tackle Martin Tevaseu also finished practice on the sideline with a right shoulder injury. … Nose tackle Brandon McKinney was held out of practice with swelling in his surgically repaired left knee. Rookie offensive lineman Hugh Thornton has not yet practiced because of a sprained right ankle.
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