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Luck no ordinary rookie quarterback

Bears preparing for 22-year-old who possesses size, athleticism, intelligence, desire to be franchise player

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

7:01 PM CDT, September 2, 2012

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INDIANAPOLIS — The thought of playing against a big puppy of a rookie quarterback in his first game usually has veterans like Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs licking their chops.

However, Bears defenders might want to keep their tongues in their mouths this week.

Andrew Luck is no ordinary rookie.

This quarterback was the first pick in the draft and one of the highest rated prospects on many draft boards since Peyton Manning, the man he is replacing under center for the Colts.

He has prototype size and athleticism, three years of experience as a starter in a pro-style offense at Stanford, intelligence in spades and a feel for the game.

If you didn't know better, you'd say Luck was born and bred to play football. His father, Oliver Luck, was a quarterback, a second-round pick of the Oilers who had a five-year NFL career, mostly as a backup to Warren Moon.

Andrew played for former Colts and Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. And as a kid, he spent years at camps run by the player whose job he is taking in Indy.

"Having gone to Peyton's football camp and having been around him, he has some of his mannerisms," said Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who was Manning's quarterbacks coach when Manning was a rookie. "He idolized him as a camper and counselor. He is a little further along in some of those things than Peyton was as a rookie because he has learned from him."

Luck has a pretty solid support system with the Colts. Arians is a 20-year NFL veteran who also has tutored Ben Roethlisberger and Tim Couch.

It's also comforting to see a familiar face in the huddle. Colts rookie tight end Coby Fleener was Luck's tight end at Stanford.

Luck said that doesn't mean he is going to be looking for Fleener on ever play. But it does mean he has someone he can count on.

"I know how he cuts, how he gets out of breaks better than any of the other guys by virtue of four years of throwing," he said.

Luck also can turn to Reggie Wayne, the 12-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler who previously was Manning's go-to receiver.

Luck considers Wayne and other Colts veterans Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Adam Vinatieri players who can show him how to win.

"I've learned as much from watching Reggie as talking to him," Luck said. "He doesn't talk just to talk, which I appreciate. He goes about his work like he's a second-year guy, not entering his 12th year. He's great for me to watch and see how he operates, how he recognizes coverages. I have asked him things like, historically how does this defense play? He has been very helpful."

At this stage of his career, it sounds as if the 22-year-old would be more comfortable with Wayne and other more experienced teammates being perceived as the leaders of the Colts. But he knows it is a mantle that he will have to assume at some point — and some point soon.

"Being a quarterback, plays run through you, so you almost have to assume a sense of leadership," he said. "But I'm a big believer you have to prove yourself on the field to be an effective leader. I realize I haven't done that. I haven't played in a regular-season game. I could go out there and embarrass myself for all I know. Hopefully I don't and hopefully I continue to grow in that department."

Luck is not approaching this season as an acclimation period. He says he feels obliged to perform at a high level and win now because some of his older teammates don't have the luxury of time as he does.

"They can't wait around four or five years to be good," he said. "They need to be good now."

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson knew about as much as anyone could possibly know about Luck before making him his first draft pick as a GM. But since he has been around Luck every day, he has had his eyes opened by how Luck goes after what he wants.

"This guy is really deeply, deeply competitive," Grigson said. "But at the same time he knows how to stay on a level where all his teammates can identify with him, which is special."

Grigson also has been impressed Luck's arm strength, which some have questioned. In a story on NFL.com, widely respected NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell wrote, "Luck was not a special passer based on film study. He is not the same kind of arm talent as Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton."

Colts safety Tom Zbikowski, who has gone against Luck every day in practice, says Luck has plenty of arm.

"You watch him make a throw, it looks effortless," Zbikowski said. "Then you watch it on film, it's a laser. You think you have good coverage, and next thing you know it's right where you are not and with a lot more velocity than you think his throwing motion could generate. It looks smooth and effortless."

His arm strength won't matter if Luck does not know where to go with the football. Arians said Luck has been exceptional in picking up the Colts offense, and he said he won't have to scale back anything because of Luck.

But there is a lot to pick up. Luck said learning different words for plays has been challenging. Arians said learning all of the Colts' protections — about 14 of them — has taken a lot of effort from Luck.

Even if Luck does everything right, he still might struggle if the rest of his team does not come together. The difference between Andy Dalton's rookie year in Cincinnati (9-7 record) and Cam Newton's rookie year in Carolina (6-10 record) is Dalton had a better team around him.

"So much is dependent on your team when you have a rookie quarterback," Arians said. "You need defense and special teams. All the pressure can't be on the offense to score."

Luck is just a rookie, about to get his first real taste of the NFL.

But he is one rookie you'd rather play with than against.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei