With Andrew Luck, Colts balancing prudence with extending plays

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Andrew Luck

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – You’ll excuse us if we’re having a difficult time coming to grips with how the Indianapolis Colts expect their most indispensable player to attack his fifth season.

That would be Andrew Luck.

No one inside the organization wants to harness No. 12.

“Andrew has to be Andrew,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said.

Luck’s strength is his ability to extend plays. He stares down the pass rush, sidesteps pressure, throws with someone hanging on him, basically buys time until T.Y. Hilton or Donte Moncrief beats coverage. When necessary, he’ll tuck the ball and do damage with his legs.

Yet as we’ve written about ad nauseam, that strength also is a weakness. Too often, Luck hasn’t known when to say when. Sometimes the defense wins. Accept that. Take a sack. Throw the ball away. Move onto the next play.

During the early portion of the Colts’ offseason workout program, Luck conceded he’s got to do a better job of protecting himself. His first four seasons have involved too much general body trauma, including right shoulder, rib and kidney injuries last season that forced him to miss nine games.

“I have an obligation to keep myself healthy, not only to myself but to this team,’’ Luck said. “If that dictates change in preparation a little bit and how you do things, then yeah, I have to.’’

He explained when a play breaks down during practice, he’s trying to program himself to limit the pending risk.

“Making a full-speed decision to throw it away like that just to train that aspect of it,’’ Luck said. “Like anything . . . it’s something you train.’’

Do it often enough in practice and maybe it becomes second nature in a game. There will be situations when the risk is warranted, but there also will be occasions when it’s more prudent to chuck the football into the stands or take a sack.

It’s a fine line the Colts are asking Luck to navigate, generally with hostile defenders closing in.

“It’s one of those things that’s a catch-22,’’ Chudzinski said. “He extends plays. In his first few years in the league as you look at tape, that’s where some of the biggest plays came off of was him extending plays and really the plays that came out of rhythm of the play, not necessarily by design.

“You have to temper that with him knowing when to say when.’’

That’s a long-winded way of saying we were a bit confused by Chuck Pagano’s comments earlier this week. He was asked whether Chudzinski’s offense will take advantage of the athleticism of Luck and backup Scott Tolzien.

During Tuesday’s practice, each mixed throwing passes out of the traditional pocket with throwing while on the move.

“Coach Chud and the rest of the guys have done a great job of extending plays, so to speak,’’ Pagano said. “So when it breaks down, we don’t just blow a whistle and stop the thing. If there’s a pressure, there’s a sack, obviously we can’t get to the quarterback this time of year so the defense does a fly-by.

“And they’ve taught the offense since day one how to extend plays.’’

Pagano pointed to how Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger bedazzles defenses with his ability to stand tall in the pocket in the face of pressure or eludes the pressure until Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton or Martavis Bryant springs open.

“They do it as good as anybody,’’ Pagano said.

The makeup of the Colts’ offense is similar. Big, strong QB in Luck. Quick, game-breaking receivers in Hilton, Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett.

“We’re working on that,’’ Pagano said of extending plays to maximize the down-the-field threats. “We’ve got athletic guys, speed guys, skills guys on the outside.

“That’s tough from a defensive standpoint because it’s hard enough covering for two-and-a-half, three seconds. Now when you extend a play and a guy you think he’s going one way and everybody breaks a different direction, it’s tough.

“We will continue to work on that.’’

And that’s totally understandable. Hilton’s big-play skills are undeniable. After just four seasons, he ranks 10th in franchise history with 4,413 receiving yards and his per-catch average (15.6) ranks No. 7. Of his 24 receiving TDs, 10 have covered at least 40 yards.

Also, everyone is expecting big things from Dorsett after his injury-impeded rookie season.

But while extending plays to maximize Hilton, Moncrief, Dorsett and others makes sense, it also goes counter to so much of what the Colts have been preaching.

And that would be keeping Luck out of harm’s way as much as possible.

“Yeah, it is a fine line,’’ he conceded last month. “You can talk about it, but it’s what you do on the field.’’

Extend plays and protect the franchise quarterback.

Good luck with that balancing act.

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