Lessons Learned from Manning: A Guide to Being the Colts QB

I have finally come to grips with the realization that Peyton Manning will not likely be playing for the Colts – if anyone – next year. It has taken me several months to get here. Even after news broke of his 3rd surgery last September, I was calculating the earliest possible return to practice (mid- to late-November), and hanging on every rumor and whisper I heard (the biggest one was Bill Polian declaring that Manning was already 100% better in December than where he had been in September).

But with a significant contract decision looming, an apparently significant philosophical change at the coaching positions, and a highly heralded quarterback available for the Colts’ #1 draft pick, the writing does seem to be on the wall. So I turn my attention to what it is about Manning that other quarterbacks, and presumably Andrew Luck, should learn from and adopt.

Here are my top three traits that I think Luck should pay close attention to as he slides into the position Manning once held.

#1 – Study, Study, Study

It is said that Manning’s work ethic is unparalleled, that he would be very good, but not as great as he is without all the film study and extra reps. As an architecture student at Stanford, Andrew Luck knows studying (and/or he’s naturally very intelligent) – he carried a 3.5 GPA, even after Stanford did away with the rule that allowed students to drop classes after the final. He wasn’t an “Interdisciplinary Studies” major like many college athletes.

But he also has to recognize that being an NFL quarterback will be his full-time job. He will need to cram as much film study time in to his free time as he can. He needs to request years-old film to see how Belichick or LeBeau coached their defenses 2 generations ago to look for a little twist that hasn’t been seen before, but which could show up in the next game. He needs to ask his Dad to help him. And if Peyton isn’t playing next year (God forbid), Luck needs to consider respectfully requesting his assistance (once and only once).

#2 – Show Your Personality, and Make Sure It Has a Sense of Humor

My heart absolutely ached for Peyton watching him in his most recent TV commercial with Jerome Bettis. “A man’s gotta work,” he replies to Bettis, who can’t believe Peyton has suited up as a referee.

Manning is smart and serious enough to continue to mold his brand for his post-football career, but he has a keen enough sense of humor to poke a little fun at his own situation. He’s also got one of the biggest personalities in sports and entertainment. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect ANYONE to fill his shoes, and it would be anything but wise to try.

But the quarterback who comes in behind Manning will not get away with being a closed-minded or self-righteous jerk. Thankfully, Andrew Luck seems to be a confident, but humble young man. He has already answered the question 1000 times about whether he would be willing to share the team with a Hall of Fame quarterback, and although his most recent answer was less than savory (“If that happens, that’s life.”), we have to recognize that it came after a demoralizing loss in the Fiesta Bowl.

Luck has good grounding, and will understand the environment he’s stepping into. It may actually take some time for him to break out of his shell, but he will do so cautiously and probably only once it is clear he can step from Manning’s long shadow.

#3 – Fall to the Ground, Take the Yards Lost, Live to See the Next Down

The fans of 31 other teams have sometimes called Manning “soft,” citing in particular his propensity to crumple to the ground like a sack of potatoes at the first sniff of a pass rush that is likely to land him on his keister. I love him for it. I laud him for it. I scream for him to do. I wish he had done it on October 22, 2006 (:38 of this video, watch only if you dare). That was the day he took the hit that may prove to end his career.

He was just trying to make a play, move the Colts down the field against the Redskins. But instead of dropping to the ground with Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels converging on him from opposite sides, Manning tried to step up in the pocket, only to be hit high and low resulting in his neck being bent back awkwardly.

It is amazing that he went on to win the Super Bowl that year, but here we are 5½ years later talking about lessons we can learn from Peyton Manning and what we hope Andrew Luck will emulate. Luck is more mobile than Peyton, and may have a slightly better chance to escape these situations, but even in the vaunted Pac-8 Pac-10 Pac-12, he’s never faced an NFL-level defense (though Cal has given him a run for his money). NFL players are bigger, faster and stronger as a whole.

If the only drill the Colts work on with Luck during OTAs and rookie camp is how to recognize when to fall, it will be time well spent. Unfortunately, the man who I assume was responsible for teaching Peyton this skill (Jim Caldwell) will now be imparting his wisdom to Joe Flacco. But two offensive coaches – Ron Turner and Frank Reich – remain on staff and have hopefully learned the importance of this skill for the health and longevity of the franchise.