INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck has been watching Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher most of his football life.
On Sunday, after spending a full week studying the Chicago Bears’ defense, the rookie quarterback will finally get a chance to see the two Pro Bowlers in action. He’s just hoping not to get too close to them.
“I think at first when you turn the film on, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is Julius Peppers standing up there.’ But you have to get that out of your system and you can’t go out there and stare in awe of those guys,” Luck said. “Obviously, you watch them growing up, but you’re not trying to get autographs from them, you’re trying to win a game.”
Luck knows he cannot afford to be star struck when he makes his NFL debut Sunday.
Every play call and every throw will be dissected by national analysts. Every Colts fan will make the inevitable comparisons between Luck and his predecessor, Peyton Manning. Every scout will be trying to gauge whether they got it right when they tabbed Luck as the most NFL-ready quarterback since Manning entered the league in 1998 or John Elway in 1983.
They’re not alone.
Inside the Colts’ complex, staff members and teammates are also curious to see how the No. 1 draft pick performs.
First-time head coach Chuck Pagano wants to see what Luck does when defenses really crank up the pressure. Center Samson Satele has been quizzing the Stanford grad about pass protections, and defensive players are eager to find out if they’ve taught Luck enough over the past 6½ weeks.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this kid is everything that was wrote about him, talked about him, and said about him in the past months,” defensive end Cory Redding said. “I see him make unbelievable throws in practice, unbelievable line checks, getting the command of that huddle, taking a leadership role every single day with the guys. This kid is going to do great things, trust me, mark my words. This kid is going to do great things for us. I’m just excited to see him play.”
While the whole league seems to concur with Redding’s opinion of Luck, the quarterback understands he still has plenty to prove on the field.
Yes, he finished the preseason 41 of 66 with 522 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, but those numbers don’t mean a thing.
The real games begin now.
“We’ve been waiting for this ever since the final whistle of the 2011 season. It’s here,” linebacker Robert Mathis said. “We have a lot to prove, a couple of chips on our shoulder so we just got to knock them off this week.”
Unlike the other Colts, Luck has to contend with the hype that has followed him for years.
The Texas high school star was billed as one of the nation’s top recruits when he chose Stanford and was considered the best college quarterback for so long that last year’s chase for the No. 1 draft pick was dubbed the “Suck For Luck” sweepstakes.
Now, all Luck has to do is replace the iconic face of the franchise and get Indy back into the playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time in a decade last year.
It’s enough to make anyone, even a humble guy like Luck, a bit restless.
“I hope I get some good sleep. You can’t guarantee it,” Luck said. “I’m sure I’ll be a little anxious, a little nervous.”
Luck does have some experience with this sort of thing.
When he took over as the Stanford starter in 2009, Luck couldn’t sleep the night before the season opener at Washington State. He wound up going 11 of 23 with 193 yards and one touchdown, a rating of 132.7, and he won 39-13.
Against Peppers, Urlacher and the rest of Chicago’s all-star defensive cast, Luck knows things may not go as well.
Indy has gone to extreme lengths to ensure he’s ready for the onslaught.
Pagano’s new 3-4 hybrid defense spent training camp trying to confuse Luck with all kinds of different looks. He played extensively against the Rams, Steelers and Redskins in the preseason, and learned perhaps the most important lesson of all — how to respond to typical rookie mistakes.
“I hope I don’t have to (take those lumps), but yeah, I think it’s part of growing up,” he said. “Part of being a rookie is, I guess, coming up to situations that you haven’t seen before.”
But Luck is leaving nothing to chance.
His locker is filled with pads, jerseys, shoes and little else. And aside from Tuesday’s visit to an Indianapolis grade school as part of the NFL’s Play 60 program, Luck has been all business this week as he prepares to face the guys he’s been watching on television all these years.
The difference now is that Luck promises to be as ready as any rookie can be heading into his first game.
“I’m sure there will be some similarities to my freshman year, but I do think it will be different,” Luck said. “I think I’m a little more mature. I think I know this offense a little better than I did when I was a freshman at Stanford.”