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NFL Meetings Musings: How happy is Pagano to have Luck in Indy?

PHOENIX -- The quarterback in today's NFL is roughly 70 percent of the game, with the rules making the man under center even more important than in decades past.

Having a franchise passer means you will likely be competitive for a decade.

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Not having one means coaches will be fired and stopgap passers will try to fill the void -- usually without success.

So how lucky is Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano? He is in his second year as a coach, and he has Andrew Luck as his quarterback. In a league starved for passers, Pagano has his guy for the long haul.

"You sleep well at night," Pagano said of having Luck. "Like somebody said, the pillow is much softer. It's a great feeling."

As a rookie in 2012, Luck led the Colts to the playoffs by throwing for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdown passes. But he threw 18 interceptions and was sacked 41 times, which is way too many. Pagano missed a lot of the 2012 season on the sidelines as he battled leukemia, but he is back now working full and is excited to have Luck there with him as they ready for their second year in Indianapolis.

"For all the great things he did in year one, he's his own worst critic, so he's going to go back and watch those snaps a thousand times over," Pagano said. "He's going to correct all the mistakes he made. He's very bright. He's a brilliant guy. He rarely makes the same mistakes twice."

Here's the scary thing for opponents: Pagano expects Luck to see things much better in 2013.

"The speed of the game will slow down for him, especially seeing the different things you do in the NFL, all the exotic blitzes and different packages on third down. He'll make the necessary adjustments. He won't be caught off guard, so to speak, in year two. It's comforting to know you have a guy like that and it's probably going to be for the next 12-14 years."

The Colts did sign two offensive linemen in free agency to help keep the pressure off Luck. Former Lion Gosder Cherilus was signed to play right tackle, and guard Donald Thomas (Patriots) was signed to help the running game. The Colts ran for 3.8 yards per rush, which was far below the league average of 4.4. That, in turn, put too much pressure on Luck and the passing game.

"We've got to be able to run the ball; that will take care of some of that [the sacks]," Pagano said. "We got behind in some games and probably had to throw the ball more than you go in with game-plan-wise. If you have to drop back and throw it 45 to 50 times, you're going to take some hits. We have to be able to balance it out. We have to run the football."

I joked with Pagano that it doesn't mean read option for Luck, even though new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has run it some in his collegiate coaching past.

"If I did it one time, the phone would probably ring on the sideline," Pagano said. "They'd probably be telling me what time my flight is leaving. Pep has a history with it. I'm making light of it. It adds another dimension for a defense if you run it once or twice and the opponent puts on the tape and sees you have it; they have to go back and spend some time on it. I'm not going to say we wouldn't stick anybody back there and not do it. I don't think we'll be doing it much with Andrew."

Nope, it's way too risky. Why put a franchise passer more in the line of fire when you know as long as he's healthy, the team will be competitive.

  • If you are looking for a potential draft faller come April, look no further than LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery. Several general managers told me here that he has some character concerns that will scare off a lot of teams. "He might not get drafted," one general manager said. Montgomery has second-round talent, but there are concerns about his character that showed up at the combine. Those concerns are expected to really hurt his draft stock.

  • I love Mike Tomlin calling the read option the "flavor of the month." I've been saying that it will be gone soon. So many teams are studying it closely this offseason, which is why it will eventually go away. That and the hits that the quarterbacks take. Tomlin, by the way, isn't the only one with that thinking. Several coaches I spoke to here think teams will figure out how to defend the read option. The other thing is they will have time this summer to coach the players on the right techniques to stop it.

  • The Jaguars did a smart thing bringing back veteran center Brad Meester. He had a solid season in 2012 and can be a leader in a clubhouse that will be loaded with young players. The Jaguars now need to find a right tackle to complete their line with Eugene Monroe at left tackle, Will Rackley likely at left guard and Uche Nwaneri at right guard. They could draft a left tackle with the second overall pick and play him at right tackle. Monroe is in the last year of his contract, so it could be a way of ensuring they have a quality left tackle in 2014.

I still don't like the Colts' signing of safety LaRon Landry, but Pagano raved about him here at the meetings. He said when he hits people, "it's like a stick of dynamite going off." Problem is the stick of dynamite has problems in coverage. This is a coverage league now. Box safeties don't have the same value.

  • Why are the Texans willing to sign Ed Reed? He wasn't very good last season, but he can bring a veteran presence to the secondary and the defense. I just wouldn't do it. He missed way too many tackles last season.

  • Glad to see Broncos coach John Fox taking up for safety Rahim Moore, who misplayed a ball and allowed a long touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones in Denver's AFC divisional loss to the Ravens. That pass tied the score, and Baltimore won it on the way to the Super Bowl victory. Moore was a solid player, and one play should not change that. Is he great? No. Does he have work to do? Yes. Should he be cut? No way.
  • The proposed rule to eliminate running backs from lowering their helmets and using the crown in helmet-to-helmet contact with a defender makes all the sense in the world. Isn't that the first lesson that a back is taught: Don't lower your head for a tackle. That's how neck injuries happen. I, for one, hope this one passes.
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