With former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians leaving Indianapolis to take the head coaching job in Arizona, the Colts hired Pep Hamilton, the former offensive director at Stanford, to take his place in 2013. The move was made for several reasons, not least of which was to keep Andrew Luck comfortable as he grows.
It's been said before, but the most important thing for the Colts to do over these first few years of GM Ryan Grigson's tenure is to foster Luck's growth and ensure that he approaches his ceiling as an NFL quarterback. They began that process last season, spending eight of their 10 picks on the offensive side of the ball, including seven of their first eight picks.
The Colts did what they could to surround Luck with talent, drafting Vick Ballard at running back, T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill at wide receiver and setting the tight end position for years with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
But when it came to coaching and scheme in 2012, the Colts did Luck no favors. Bruce Arians threw Luck into the fire with a vertically based, pass-heavy offense. Luck was up to the task and took it in stride, but with inexperienced receivers and a poor offensive line, his efficiency struggled for most of the year.
To fix that issue, the Colts chose to hire Hamilton to lead the offense in 2013. But will the changes be a good fit for Luck's skill set, or will he suffer a sophomore slump without Bruce Arians?
The initial reaction is no. Luck has an incredibly useful comfort with Hamilton's offense, recently stating that he's already familiar with about 75 percent of the offense that the Colts will be running in 2013 based on his time at Stanford.
Hamilton's offense should bring with it a much heavier emphasis on shorter and intermediate routes, as well as a focus on the power run game. This in itself should improve the efficiency of Luck's numbers in 2013. Bruce Arians' offense didn't include nearly enough checkdowns and intermediate routes for Luck to go to. Arians expected Luck to be looking down the field as the first option on the majority of plays.
Unlike other rookie and young quarterbacks, Luck had no strong running game to lean on. His plays forced him to make multiple reads deep down the field, all while dealing with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
But Arians' offense wasn't all bad. Arians understood that success on offense in this league runs through the passing game and through the quarterback. Luck has the talent to be able to make any throw and perfect any offense with the right pieces around him. Arians threw Luck into the fire and he performed admirably. If the Colts try to limit him too much, they'll stunt, or at least slow, his growth.
But I don't believe that will be the case. Pep Hamilton has been adamant about making sure he uses all of his available talent. His offense will include West Coast principles, but also parts of Arians' offense and likely components from the Manning offense when he was in Indianapolis as well.
With this combination of components tailored to fit the skill set of each individual part, we should see an improvement in Luck's play.
Component No. 1: Increased Play Action
I mentioned this in my last piece about Pep Hamilton's offense, but we should definitely expect to see more play-action passing in 2013.
Luck and the Stanford offense ran play action 28 percent of the time during 2011. Last season in Indianapolis, however, the Colts and Luck used play action just 16.8 percent of the time (subscription required), ranking 18th in the league.
With an increased rate of play action, Luck should see more success, especially in his efficiency. Luck's completion percentage rose over 11 percent when using play action last season (the biggest increase of any QB). He also saw an increase in passer rating of nearly 35 points.
Component No. 2: Focus on Shorter Passes
One of the components that you can see in the now well-known play Spider 2 Y Banana is how Hamilton's offense will focus on shorter passes. While there are longer routes built into Hamilton's offense (and Spider 2 Y Banana), the priority and first read is the shorter route.
With the focus on shorter routes, Luck should see a higher completion percentage and more efficient drives.
For more on this, along with film snapshots, read this piece I wrote a few weeks ago.
Final Note: One thing to Keep
One thing that I think is critical for Hamilton to emphasize with Luck's skill set is his legs and ability to create. Much like Ben Roethlisberger, Luck is very hard to bring down. Hamilton needs to be smart about knowing the limits of his offensive line, but he also needs to run some plays that will take some time to develop.
Luck has the ability to extend plays with his feet, whether it's through designed roll outs or avoiding pass rush and getting the throw off. I would love to see Luck be able to utilize these for big gains in 2013.