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Bill Polian: Like Peyton Manning, Colts must keep Andrew Luck ‘clean’

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Andrew Luck

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 24, 2016) – It’s not as if the Indianapolis Colts haven’t meandered down this road before, hand-in-hand with a franchise quarterback and hell bent on keeping him out of harm’s way.

Remember 1998 and the years that followed? Remember Peyton Manning?

Press the fast-forward button and we’re talking about Andrew Luck.

But whether we’re discussing building a franchise around Manning, who would lead the Colts to two Super Bowl appearances and one world championship in 14 seasons, or Luck, who’s coming off an injury-plagued 2015 after leading the team to three consecutive playoff appearances, the overriding objective is the same.

It must be the same.

Listen to Bill Polian, whose prime objective as the Colts’ long-time executive was making certain Manning was allowed to carry out his game-changing quarterback duties without absorbing unnecessary abuse.

“Our mantra was and (long-time offensive line coach) Howard Mudd would tell you ‘Job number one is keeping 18 clean,’’’ Polian said Wednesday during a break from his role an ESPN analyst at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Everything else is secondary to that.

“And we did.’’

Yet the Colts, post-Manning and post-Polian, haven’t done that with Luck. Since being selected with the first overall pick in 2012, he’s been sacked 115 times in 55 regular-season games. Most concerning, he’s been hit more than 400 times while throwing, and missed nine games last season with shoulder, rib and kidney injuries.

It’s imperative the Colts finally get it right. Luck’s health depends on it. By extension, so does the long-term fate of the franchise.

With Luck, the Colts always will be a playoff contender, even in the discussion for a championship. Without him, they face a repeat of 2015 – 8-8 and out of the postseason for the first time since ’11.

Amplifying the need to fix an inadequate offensive line, insisted Polian, is the fact the Colts are committed to signing Luck to an extension this offseason that could make him the highest-paid player in NFL history. It is expected to average at least $20 million per season.

“You’re making the investment in the bell cow and the future of the franchise,’’ Polian said. “If he’s going to get injured either because you don’t have the right guys to do it or the style of play isn’t conducive to that, then you’re just wasting that money.

“You can’t say ‘We’re not going to protect.’ You’ve got to. That’s all there is to it. And I think the owner (Jim Irsay) has said that on numerous occasions.’’

The April 28-30 draft should afford the Colts yet another opportunity to bolster Luck’s supporting cast. They hold the 18th overall pick, and options likely will include tackles Taylor Decker of Ohio State and Jack Conklin of Michigan State, or Alabama center Ryan Kelly.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has had lukewarm success addressing the offensive line in his first four drafts. Guard Jack Mewhort, a 2014 second-round pick, is a keeper, but guard Hugh Thornton (round 3, ’13) and center Khaled Holmes (round 4, ’13) have struggled. Tackle Denzelle Good, a seventh-round pick last year, showed promise as a rookie.

The best of the group, though, was Polian’s final first-round pick in 2011: left tackle Anthony Castonzo.

“They’ve got to look at what they’ve got and how it fits and how they want to play,’’ Polian said. “Then you take it from there. I don’t know that any one guy is the answer necessarily.’’

Decker would offer immediate help, even if it means moving from left tackle to the right side. He’s the tallest player at the Combine – 6-7 and change – and is a former Buckeye teammate of Mewhort. He also isn’t interested in being eased into any team’s offensive line rotation.

Decker wants to start. Right away.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ he said. “I don’t think anybody would want to come in and be like, ‘Oh, I’ll ride the bench for a couple of years.’ I want to come in immediately and I do want to be a starter.

“And I don’t want to be a player that ‘We can survive with him.’ I want to be able to ad some value to the team, to be an asset and not a guy that’s kind of dead weight. That’s a huge goal to have and it’s going to be difficult to do, but it’s going to be something I’m going to pursue, something I’m going to chase and hopefully accomplish.’’

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