FOXBORO — With great talent comes even higher expectation.
And when you’re a 23-year-old quarterback gifted with a golden arm and tremendous athletic ability, the pressure of leading a team from the cellar to a playoff contender can be overwhelming.
But not for Andrew Luck .
Luck knew exactly what he was getting into when he left Stanford for the NFL and was drafted first overall by the Colts last April. Nine games into his rookie season, his stats (2,600 yards passing, 10 TDs, 9 INTs) are good – not great – but those numbers are not how his success story is being told. He has led his team to a 6-3 record, just two games behind the AFC leading Texans in the AFC South. With leading being the operative word.
Several coaches and players in Indianapolis were mildly amazed in mini-camp and training camp that a rookie who missed rookie OTAs to finish his degree at Stanford would be able to come in and call check-downs at the line of scrimmage. It earned him immediate credibility and respect in the offices and most importantly in the locker room, a locker room that still has names like Reggie Wayne , Dwight Freeney  and Robert Mathis .
How does Luck see himself as a leader?
“That’s a good question,” Luck said. “I try and do the right thing, try and work hard, try and learn from other guys. If I have something to add or feel my opinion is pertinent, then make it known.
“It hasn’t been too bad because for one, our locker room’s great with a lot of veteran leadership and it’s a very comfortable locker room. I do try to defer them on things that I realize that I know nothing about and they do. I also realize as a quarterback you do assume some of the responsibilities by virtue of talking in the huddle and having the plays sort of run through you. I’m lucky to be part of a good locker room.”
Luck said his NFL learning curve has gone about as smoothly as he could’ve hoped.
“I knew that every day was going to be a new learning experience ‘ every game, every trip, every practice ‘ was going to be a new learning experience,” Luck said. “Some has gone well. Some has been sort of bumpy, if you will. But, I’m try to go get better every day and I think I’m continuing to improve and the team’s continuing to improve which is good.”
Here is the rest of this week’s Q and A with the Colts rookie quarterback, along with RGIII, a leader in the NFL offensive rookie of the year race.
Q: You are one of several starting rookie quarterbacks in the NFL this year. Are players coming out of college more pro ready or are offenses more tailored to your skill sets?
AL: I don’t know. I can’t speak for any of the other quarterbacks, but I’m glad I’m playing now. It’s speeding up the learning process by a lot, by a couple factors. I think what Coach [Bruce] Arians has done with the offense has been great for me. It fits what I’m trying to do and what this team’s trying to do. But, I don’t know the answer to that.
Q: What stands out for you about this New England defense?
AL: They do a great job of creating turnovers at inopportune times for the offense and opportunistic times for themselves: in the Red Zone, backed up when teams are on big drives. So, they do a great job of that. I think they are just a solid defense all the way around
Q: When looking at the Patriots secondary, is there any consistency that you see in the coverage that you might want to exploit?
AL: I think they do a great job of mixing up coverages and disguising coverages so it’s hard to get a beat on what they’re doing. They’ve been banged up here and there but they’ve done a great job of getting the job done. Sunday will be a very tough test for us.
Q: What has Reggie Wayne meant to you in terms of your overall development?
AL: He’s been great. He doesn’t talk much; he’s not going to sit down and lecture the young guys, but the way he works, the way he prepares during the week, the way he takes care of his body, the way he mentally prepares, is a great example for us all in the locker room. To boot, he’s a great football player, so it’s fun getting able to throw to him.
Q: What are some of your early memories of the Patriots versus Colts and Brady versus Manning rivalry?
AL: Absolutely. As a young quarterback growing up, I took the opportunity to watch the sort of benchmarks of quarterback play. There were some great playoff games at both stadiums. I think Gillette had grass a while back so it got fairly muddy sometimes late in the year watching them play. Those are always fun for a lot of people, including me.
Q: What is your key to handling your success?
AL: To put it in perspective, I wouldn’t define this season [as] successful by any means. We realize that we’ve put ourselves in the position to hopefully do some good things, but we haven’t gotten to our end goal yet. And as far as college, you realize it’s a great team game. We’re fortunate to be able to play this game and we try to have fun with it.
Q: One of the strengths of this Patriots defensive line is being able to rush the quarterback without too many blitzes. What do you see as the danger for you going against this Patriots team?
AL: Yeah, absolutely. I think their front four is incredibly stout. [Vince] Wilfork  is one of the best nose tackles/interior guys in the League. And two, they have very good edge rushers on the sides. They do get to the quarterback and even if it’s not a sack, they sort of harass, force a quarterback out of the pocket. So, that’ll be a focus all week. I’m sure our line will do a great job and it will be a great test for them.
Q: Where do you think you are in terms of your accuracy and decision making?
AL: Improving. I am nowhere near what I’d like it to be. I wish I could complete 100 percent of my passes and I realize that a lot of my decisions have led to turnovers or negative plays. But I think I’m improving at it and realize, ‘OK, here’s when I need to throw a ball away as opposed to trying to force it in there. Or, slide instead of taking a hit and maybe fumble.’ So, I’m trying to improve in those areas.
Q: Can you talk about how the team has handled the unusual coaching situation?
AL: Yeah, it’s, I guess, an unprecedented situation. But I think the guys have handled it very well. Coach [Bruce] Arians has done a great job. Most importantly, Chuck [Pagano] built a great foundation and I think everybody realizes what his vision was and it’s easy to buy into that. I think Coach Arians has a great feel for what the next steps are and obviously Chuck’s still very heavily involved through text messages and phone calls and all that. I think it’s easy when you have a good plan; it’s easy for us players to buy in.
Q: How much pressure did you feel as the number one overall pick expected to come in and fill the role Peyton Manning  held in Indianapolis for so long?
AL: I didn’t view it like that. Obviously as an athlete, I try and put a fair amount of pressure on myself to go out and succeed, but I realized if I got caught up in trying to fill Peyton’s shoes and compare myself to him every day I’d probably go crazy. I feel it’s unattainable, so I try not to be like that.
Q: Where would you say your confidence level is now compared to the offseason and training camp?
AL: I think higher, but I think that’s really a product of getting experience and also being more comfortable with the playbook and everything that goes on with the weekly schedule and how things operate.
Q: In your rookie year, when your name is mentioned in the same breath with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady , what goes through your mind?
AL: I definitely don’t deserve to be in that sentence or breath as you said. If someday I can play at a level that Peyton and Tom play at, then that’d be a quarterback’s dream come true.
Q: Have you ever met Tom Brady?
AL: I have not.
Q: Your athleticism has come out during the first half of the season. Do you feel like you have opened up eyes for some people to that part of your game?
AL: I don’t know. I try not to run, realizing there are guys much more athletic on this team who can do much better things with the ball in their hands than me. But I guess part of playing the position is when the time comes, when it’s necessary to use your legs for a first down or to get a touchdown or whatever, might as well use them.
Q: After the Miami game, Reggie Wayne called you fearless. Why do you think he would have used that word in particular?
AL: Trying to boost my confidence, I’m sure [laughs], but I’m not sure.