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Luck will make some pro coach happy, maybe Harbaugh

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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The name Andrew Luck resonates with many.

To Stanford University, he's the reason the Cardinal will be headed to the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. To head coach Jim Harbaugh, he's the reason a coaching career is ascending at a rapid rate. And, to the National Football League teams floundering in a league of parity, he represents hope for the future.

In particular, there are three teams praying that the redshirt sophomore prodigy declares for the draft -- the Buffalo Bills (2-10), Cincinnati Bengals (2-10) and Carolina Panthers (1-11). All three are in contention for the player being labeled the most complete quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. The Panthers, however, with four daunting games remaining, appear to have the upper hand in the potential Luck Sweepstakes.

Andrew Luck didn't get the Heisman but was in New York to congratulate Cam Newton. (AP)  
Andrew Luck didn't get the Heisman but was in New York to congratulate Cam Newton. (AP)  
Their remaining schedule includes two games against the NFC South-leading Falcons (10-2), a tough matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3), and a winnable, but competitive contest against the Arizona Cardinals (3-9).

At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Luck has poise and polish far beyond his years, and has received rave reviews in scouting circles for his accuracy, arm strength, intelligence, mobility and the intangibles he possesses to lead a team so early in his collegiate career. Another element of Luck's game gets overlooked, but stands out on film -- his athleticism. When the pocket collapses, he has the lateral agility and quickness to make plays on the run.

Statistically, Luck had a breakout season in 2010, and if it wasn't for the play of Cameron Newton -- who is also likely to be a top five pick if he declares for the draft -- and the success of Auburn, Luck would have been the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Luck helped guide the Cardinal to an 11-1 record, completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 3,051 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

There could be some controversy surrounding the potential selection of Luck in Carolina because the Panthers used their second-round pick in 2010 on former Notre Dame standout Jimmy Clausen. The reality, however, is that John Fox is likely out as head coach, and with a new coach in place, a change in personnel and philosophy is a virtual certainty.

There are perfect coaching candidates who will suit Luck as well as the Panthers and the personnel they have on their present roster. Of all the candidates the Panthers will consider -- and it's only right to assume that the coach hired will determine the draft pick they make in April -- there are three names that make great sense: former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer or a wild-card -- Harbaugh.

After a legendary 15-year coaching career in Pittsburgh and being a studio analyst for CBS the last three years, Cowher, who resides in Raleigh, North Carolina, would likely be open to the Panthers' coaching position considering the proximity of the gig to his family. Cowher's hard-nosed coaching style and run-first mentality would work well with the Panthers given the plethora of talent at the running back position, which includes DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. It's that talent that would ease the development of a young quarterback like Luck, and with Cowher's philosophy and understanding of how to groom a young quarterback -- as he did with Ben Roethlisberger -- the pairing seems like a natural fit.

Schottenheimer, the son of longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer, has made a name for himself since joining the Jets organization in 2006 and has been up for head-coaching positions with the Miami Dolphins, Bills and Jets over the last few years. A former college quarterback and quarterbacks coach in the NFL, Schottenheimer has shown the aptitude to tutor and develop young quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and Philip Rivers while he was with the San Diego Chargers, and most recently in New York with Mark Sanchez.

The dynamic that's most intriguing with Schottenheimer is that during his tenure in San Diego and New York, the presence of a running game has been available and he's been savvy enough to utilize that aspect and nurture the budding careers of the quarterbacks under his guidance. If the Panthers were to hire Schottenheimer, his history of working with high-round, highly-touted quarterbacks could divert their attention from drafting Luck and sticking with Clausen. But if the Panthers end up with the top pick and are unable to trade down, Schottenheimer's history suggests that Luck will ultimately end up being one of the league's best.

While Cowher and Schottenheimer are going to be two of the most sought-after coaches this offseason and will be high on the Panthers' list and that of many other teams, if Luck decides to declare for the draft, don't rule out Harbaugh.

Speaking of coaches who've succeeded grooming young quarterbacks, the masterful job that Harbaugh did with Luck during the past two years was sensational. The game plan, instincts and patience that Harbaugh had with Luck in his first year as a starter is the exact recipe he could use if he were to take over the reins in Carolina next season. During the 2009 season, Harbaugh eased Luck into the offense and leaned on his running game that was led by Toby Gerhart. That season, Luck threw 288 passes -- completing just 56.2 percent -- compared to Stanford's top rusher, Toby Gerhart, who carried the ball 343 times. With that philosophy, Harbaugh simplified his pro-style offense and limited the mistakes Luck could make.

This season was a different story for Stanford. Harbaugh had a much more confident quarterback, one with a better understanding of the offense and took on a larger leadership role. Harbaugh felt comfortable unleashing Luck this year. It may be a long shot that Harbaugh will end up in the NFL next season with Stanford aggressively trying to lock him with a long-term extension. But the lure of millions and the thought of reuniting with his prized pupil in the professional ranks could be enough for Harbaugh to return to the NFL.

Decisions, decisions.

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