|Even coach Chuck Pagano says seeing Luck is 'like watching Peyton orchestrate the whole thing.' (Getty Images)|
ANDERSON, Ind. -- It hit me like a spiral between the eyes. I had been here before at Indianapolis Colts training camp, in the very same spot almost, talking passing game and quarterbacking only two years earlier, only with a different guy getting peppered with my questions.
Then, it was Peyton Manning in the spot, gracious, informative, a football junkie filling up a notebook.
This time, it was Andrew Luck, the man who will try to fill Manning's enormous shoes in Indianapolis. Like Manning, Luck was informative, easygoing, a pro's pro, acting far older than his years and nothing like a wide-eyed rookie.
The No. 18 jerseys that have been so prominent in these parts are now being replaced by No. 12, Luck's number, one that likely will grow to be special just like the quarterback before him.
It's eerie, really, how much Luck and Manning seem alike. Both are big, cerebral, smart, quarterbacks with former NFL passers as dads who seem to be made for the position.
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Colts first-year coach Chuck Pagano, who came over from the Baltimore Ravens, sees the similarities as well. It hit him on the practice field last week.
"I was standing behind him [Luck], watching him," Pagano said. "His body language looked just like Peyton. He came to the line, gave the defense a false cadence, tried to get the defense to show its hand, which it did. He changed the protection. He talked to the wideouts, trying to get them in motion. He pointed out the hot sight adjusts and knew how much time was on the play clock. He took the snap from center, and, boom, went to the right spot. It was like watching Peyton orchestrate the whole thing."
Those comparisons are going to come. It's natural. This is a case of a potential can't-miss kid replacing the one who didn't.
Luck said he doesn't really think much about replacing Manning. It's there. But it's not important to him. Winning games. Getting better. That's the priority, not thinking about his predecessor all the time.
Problem is, we bring it up.
"As far as Peyton stuff goes, I don't pay too much attention to it," Luck said. "I would ask the question, too, if I were a bystander or a football fan. I completely understand it. I don't get personally vested in it. It's never one person's team."
Maybe not, but the Colts were close to that because of Manning. It can be argued that he saved the team in Indianapolis. Along the way, he won a Super Bowl and helped build a fancy new stadium, which attracted a Super Bowl to the city.
That's a tough act to follow. But the Colts have the right kid to try it.
Like Manning, Luck loves the game. Lives it. Breathes it. Watching his father Oliver helped prepare him for this moment. I joked with Andrew that he has been readying for this his entire life, being the son of a quarterback.
"I don't think I was thinking what I was doing in the backyard back then would one day help me with training camp," he said with a laugh.
But, much like Manning, he has been conditioned to be an NFL passer for a long time. It's in the genes. That doesn't mean there are shortcuts. Manning's work ethic is legendary. Luck is cut from the same cloth.
When asked about being a rookie leader, he gave a long, thought-out answer, something Manning also would do.
"The locker room has been very receptive, which is great as a young player to come into, I think, where you don't feel you have to force things and say certain things," he said. "I think, you know, everyone's very comfortable acting within their own personality, and that's something I try and never do, is force a speech or something outside of your personality or force being quiet or force yelling if you're a quiet guy, whatever that may be. As a quarterback, you know you're talking every play in the huddle, so you naturally assume some air of leadership, but it's a process. You've just got to build the trust, build the confidence."
It killed Luck that he couldn't take part in a lot of the Colts offseason work because his class at Stanford didn't graduate until later than most. NFL guidelines kept him away, but he put his nose in the playbook as much as he could and he went to Miami to work with veteran receiver Reggie Wayne on his own.
That's another Manning-like move. So what about the comparison, Reggie?
"You know, it's kind of hard for me to answer that question," he said. "I mean, Andrew's going to be good, he's going to be really good. He's really smart, he knows what's going on around him, he understands the concept, he understands the terminology. But I can't compare the two, that won't be fair. Like I said earlier, you've just got to sit back and see what happens."
There is no stopping it, though. And to see Luck work on the practice field only strengthens the argument that he is a lot like the man he is replacing. He sees it fast, has a nice release, throws a good, catchable ball and seems to have a real command of the offense.
Rookies aren't supposed to look like this. Only the special ones do, and the Colts seem to have another.
How lucky can one franchise get? They get one of the all-time greats for 14 years, and then when he's on his way out they happen to land the next great thing?
I won't say Luck is a can't-miss -- he doesn't like that much, by the way -- but I will say my initial reaction after talking to him and seeing him live is that he's darn close.