Luck eager to make home debut against MinnesotaINDIANAPOLIS — The Andrew Luck jerseys started popping up in Lucas Oil Stadium late last season.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Andrew Luck jerseys started popping up in Lucas Oil Stadium late last season.
Minutes after the Colts finally took the Stanford quarterback with the No. 1 draft pick in April, the jerseys were the hottest fashion in town.
Ever since, Indianapolis fans have been eagerly anticipating the day those impostors would step aside, the dress rehearsals would end and the new franchise quarterback would sprint onto his home field and start throwing meaningful passes. The wait ends Sunday.
“There will be a lot of energy,” Luck said. “It will be a lot of fun to play in this stadium. Hopefully, it’s fun for the fans.”
Luck already has a sense of what to expect from the welcoming party for the Minnesota game.
When Colts officials moved a June mini-camp practice to the stadium, billed as a ticket-buying opportunity, an estimated 7,500 people showed up — most trying to catch a glimpse of the real No. 12. It was a virtual replay of his arrival the day after the draft when thousands more watched the No. 1 draft pick throw his first pass in Indy — to 9-year-old Holden Harless of Anderson, Ind., a longtime Peyton Manning fan who needed life-saving surgery to remove a tumor in his spinal cord three years earlier.
Luck made two preseason starts in Indy, which gave him a chance to see how seriously pro fans take these games.
“Even walking around it’s interesting, hearing when people come up to you and say a couple of words, it’s ‘Wow you know a lot about football, maybe too much about football, I can’t answer that question,’” Luck said with a laugh. “It’s been fun to see how in tune the fans are, to the offense and defense, different situations. I know it’s a little different than it was at Stanford where folks weren’t so into that part of the game.”
Fans will hardly recognize this home team.
Most of the big names — Manning, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt, Dallas Clark, Ryan Diem, Pierre Garcon and Jeff Saturday — have moved on.
Those that did stick around — Freeney, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne — will be found in new spots.
But as outsiders plan this big celebration, praise Luck and raise the expectations for what might be the most touted quarterback to enter the league since Manning, the Vikings (1-0) would rather become the purple party poopers.
“You’ve got to hit him. You’ve got to hit him,” Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said. “That’s how you get to a young quarterback, not letting him get into a rhythm.”
Allen knows all the tricks.
Last season, he won the NFL sacks title, set a franchise record (22) and was the major reason Minnesota shared the league lead with 50 sacks. Luck could be susceptible to a few more Sunday.
Last week, the Chicago Bears exploited Indy’s biggest offensive weakness by sacking Luck three times and knocking Luck to the ground numerous other times. The Colts also are likely to play Sunday without left guard Joe Reitz (knee), could be without right tackle Winston Justice (concussion), too, and may need newly-signed guard Trai Essex to plug one of the holes. Essex signed with Indy after spending the past seven years in Pittsburgh — the last five with then Steelers and now Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
But the Vikings are downplaying the perceived mismatch along the line.
“You don’t want to misjudge what happened in the preseason or even in the first regular season game,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “Most teams in our league, and I hope we’re one of them, will improve that second week and we anticipate their offense and their offensive line being much improved this second week.”
While most eyes inside Lucas Oil Stadium will be focused on Luck, those watching on television may be more intrigued by Adrian Peterson.
The Pro Bowl running back mystified experts by returning from ACL and MCL surgery for in about 8½ months. In his first game back, Peterson carried 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime victory and he looked like the same spectacular runner he was before surgery.
Skeptics insist it must be a mirage. Peterson, meanwhile, wants to prove Week 1 was no fluke.
“You’ve got to be able to trust it (the ACL) and know that the structure of the ligament is going to be strong, as strong as or stronger than the opposite ACL,” Peterson said. “I think a lot of guys get caught up in that mental battle, thinking that maybe it’s not healed all the way, or maybe it’s not as strong. And then that comes back to bite them. So me, personally, I’ve just had in my mind that, you know, it’s stronger than the right leg.”
If Peterson is healthy and the Vikings generate a fierce pass rush, Minnesota could crash Sunday’s party.
But the Colts believe they can turn Luck’s home debut into the second-biggest football fiesta in Indy this year.
“Playing at home is huge. It’s exciting. Our players are excited about it., our staff is excited about it, I’m excited about it,” new Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Like I said, we’ve got to be able to come out and start fast and get the crowd into it.”
AP prediction: VIKINGS, 14-13