Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts

February 16, 2012 – 8:47 am by Kevin Johnston

Since Peyton Manning hasn’t been in the news much lately, I thought it might be a good idea for someone to provide an update. OK, so despite every talking head in the country having already shared their two cents on Manning’s future and what the Colts should do with the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft, as a lifelong Colts fan and Indianapolis native I feel it is my duty to chime in with another worthless, unwanted opinion. I’ve been known to treat dead horses like piñatas.

The latest rumor in this ongoing soap opera asserts that Manning had a fourth procedure on his neck previously unknown to the public. Supposedly it happened in between his May procedure to repair a bulging disc and his widely reported neck fusion surgery in September. Toss in a side of bone spurs, garnish it with a dash of atrophy, and you’ve got quite the buffet of career-derailing ailments. It’s also difficult to lift the fork to your mouth with a “noodle arm.” And you thought Golden Corral was bad…

So where exactly do the Colts go from here? The common cliché that keeps popping up in this discussion is how Colts owner Jim Irsay has “so many difficult decisions to make this offseason.” That’s a steaming hot pile of excrement with flies swarming around it in my opinion. The decision at hand is a no-brainer: Take Andrew Luck regardless of Peyton Manning’s health status.

It’s become more apparent than ever that Peyton’s career is probably over. And even if it isn’t, with a $28 million roster bonus due on March 8, there are just too many uncertainties to even consider paying him such a large sum. March 8 is exactly three weeks from today; there is absolutely no chance that this mess will all be sorted out by then.

The following statement will make every Colts fan shudder, but sometimes the truth is a bitter pill to swallow: in less than three weeks, Peyton Manning will no longer be a member of the Indianapolis Colts. There are simply more questions than answers when it comes to Manning’s health.

But if ever there’s a “right time” for a Hall of Fame quarterback to leave a team, now is it. Irsay already cleaned house and hired Chuck Pagano – the former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens – to usher the Colts into a new era. The team will be switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense under its new coach, which should be a welcomed change for most Colts fans.

For the past decade or more the Colts have been mired in the Tampa 2 defensive scheme, Tony Dungy’s ultra-conservative defense characterized by using quick but severely undersized defensive players whose main goal has been to bend but not break, i.e. gladly give up vast amounts of yardage on the ground while playing the safeties deep to avoid big gains through the air.It’s the reason why teams like Jacksonville so often and easily put together 10-minute drives in an effort to keep Peyton Manning off the field.

But back to Mr. Luck. The new 3-4 defensive scheme that Pagano believes in should help the Colts become a more complete team down the road as Luck develops. Some critics are clamoring for Robert Griffin III, who I like, but I’m more sold on Luck for two reasons: his pocket presence and his approach to the game.

Luck has a feel for the position that simply cannot be taught. When the pocket is collapsing, there are some quarterbacks who get shaken and panicky, and there are some who just have a sixth sense and can feel the pressure coming from behind. Luck falls into the latter category. He maintains his composure under pressure, steps up in the pocket, keeps his eyes down field and knows when to release the ball or tuck it and scramble.

The other thing I love about Luck is his approach to the game. The kid is a total football nerd and mature well beyond his years. He probably falls asleep at a desk every night with his face buried in a playbook, stained in drool. He’s a leader and a student of the game. I love his arm strength, accuracy and scrambling ability too, but there are plenty of quarterbacks in every draft that have those same attributes. He’s got all the physical tools and all the intangibles. That’s rare.

Despite the grieving process that inevitably comes with the departure of a legend, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Indy. Mark my words, by 2015 the Colts will have an elite defense under Pagano, and also probably one of the best quarterbacks in the league just entering his prime. If the Colts upgrade the offensive line in the next few drafts, they might also generate some semblance of a running game. Imagine a young, big, physical front seven on defense along with a young, mammoth offensive line protecting Luck and the Colts could be a more balanced team than they were during the Polian/Manning era.

The next two years may be rough, but in Luck’s third year I think the Colts will be contending for the AFC South crown once again.

Here’s my blueprint: Keep Pierre Garçon and Pat Angerer to build around. Trade away or allow the aging veterans to walk. Go heavy on offensive lineman from Wisconsin and defensive players from the SEC who fit Pagano’s scheme over the next several drafts. Then draft Luck a couple of young weapons to play next to Garçon in the middle rounds.

The future is bright in Indy, but the “destroy and rebuild” process will be painful. Luckily for the Colts, they have a “Luckbox” to fall back on.

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