Four days from now, Andrew Luck will play in Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time. It's a preseason game, a glorified practice. But it'll feel bigger.
Luck, the Indianapolis Colts' rookie quarterback, could run 20 or 25 plays against the St. Louis Rams at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
Luck's up for it, even if he says he hasn't thought too far ahead of today.
“I have not talked to Coach (Chuck) Pagano or Coach Arians about it,” Luck told reporters Tuesday morning, a few hours before he went 30 for 45 in the night practice at Anderson University. “So whatever they decide, I'll just go with the flow.”
The rest of us are a little more anxious to see how Luck looks against another team's defense. Granted, the Rams aren't anyone's idea of the new Monsters of the Midway, but ranked seventh-best in the NFL last season in pass defense. So they are, or were, one of the better teams at containing quarterbacks.
Let's assume Luck gets 25 snaps. Figure between a third and a half of the snaps are going to be hand-offs, so the possible pass attempts are more likely 15 or fewer.
Here's what I'd like to see Sunday:
* Two deep balls. Actually, I'd like to see five or six just because they're so much fun to watch, but that's highly unlikely. However, one of the question marks about Luck is the strength of his arm on the deep ball. He's dispelling any doubts in practice, but the rest of the world wants to see it in a game.
I don't believe mastery of deep throws makes or breaks a quarterback. I never thought Peyton Manning ruled the league in going long, although he was as accurate as it gets when he unleashed.
But it's good for the offense to let the defense know that weapon exists.
“The wide receivers have done a great job running their butts off, and they're really getting us a lot of room to put the ball up there and run under it,” Luck said. “Donnie (Avery) and LaVon (Brazill), (Austin) Collie, Reggie (Wayne) especially, they've all been really good at getting open downfield and then making the catch.”
I'd like most for Luck to go deep to Avery, Brazill or T.Y. Hilton on Sunday, because they've got something to prove.
* Four sideline out routes.
Remember how Manning moved the chains so well hitting Wayne, Marvin Harrison, even Dallas Clark, over the outside shoulder toward the sidelines? They're tough passes that look simple when executed well. It's all about the ball placement. It needs to arrive as the receivers turning that direction. Luck has shown that skill in training camp.
* Four tight-end connections.
These can be a variety of types of passes, with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen lining up any number of ways before the snap. Allen sometimes lines up in a fullback position, primarily for blocking purposes but he could peel off and look for a pass. Fleener seems more flexible along the lines of Clark, who could line up tight, in the slot or even out wide.
Can Luck find these guys as second or third options? How will Luck handle the speed needed for a progression of passing looks?
* Four in heavy traffic.
These can go to wide receivers such as Collie or Wayne, or to the tight ends. But it'll be instructive to see will be how Luck finds these receivers in traffic. How does he see the field? Can he anticipate linebackers jumping routes? Does he have a sense of safeties arriving out of nowhere? By “traffic,” I just mean situations where there's a small window. Again, people are seeing Luck execute against the Colts defense, but doing so against another opponent raises the bar.
The best NFL quarterbacks put the ball where only a receiver can catch it when space indicates there are at least two players (yours and theirs) in direct line with the ball.
“He's real fluid with his release,” Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. “Until you catch it or try to bat it down, you don't see how much velocity it really has. He has a real strong arm. He's ahead of the curve. So that's a big plus for us.”
* One on the run.
Luck's athletic ability is sometimes overlooked. We saw at the NFL Combine that he has speed. He's not quite as fast as Robert Griffin III, but he's more than average in mobility. I'd like to see him chased a bit out of the pocket, feel the pressure, and improvise a completion on what appears to be a broken play.
No matter what combination of throws Luck attempts, we'll be closer than ever to seeing what the Colts' offense looks like after an extreme makeover.
We shouldn't judge too harshly or too enthusiastically upon first review this Sunday. But it doesn't hurt to judge. For “The New Franchise,” the scrutiny is inevitable.