Andrew Luck was a big reason for the Indianapolis Colts' success in the 2012 season, but there are a few things that he must do in 2013 to become a truly elite quarterback in just his second season in the NFL.
Being a top-five quarterback is quite a difficult task in today's league. Four of those spots are already taken without much thought thanks to Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. That leaves the fifth spot up in the air for guys like Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and perhaps even Luck.
Solely based on 2012, Luck isn't there yet. He showed a lot of positive signs, but there are a few things that he really needs to work on to break into that elite category this coming season.
Note: All screenshots are courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.
Limit the Turnovers
Turnovers were certainly a problem for Luck in 2012. Not only did he finish the season with 18 interceptions, he also had 10 total fumbles, five of them resulting in turnovers.
Not all of these were Luck's fault. A vertical passing game and a questionable offensive line had Luck running for his life for the majority of the season. Several drops from wide receivers fell into the hands of defensive backs.
Still, Luck will probably be the first guy to admit that there are no excuses, and the turnovers need to go down in 2013.
There were too many plays in which Luck made a poor throw last year. Perhaps one of the better examples came from Week 1 last season against the Chicago Bears.
Luck made the right decision by throwing to Donnie Avery, who had gotten behind Tim Jennings in coverage. Unfortunately for the Colts, Luck underthrew it and Jennings made a terrific grab for the pick.
There certainly are some good things to note from this play. Let's take a look at the pre-snap read from Luck before the play.
As you can see, there are eight men in the box and a single safety playing deep. Luck recognizes this and not only does he bait the safety thanks to the play-action, he also gets the defensive line to jump early on what could have been an offside penalty.
Thanks to the play-action fake, Luck had a one-on-one matchup between Avery and Jennings, as seen here.
Luck will need to complete more deep throws against man coverage to be considered a top-tier quarterback at this level.
Making the right read is a big step for a rookie in his first career game. It seemed that there was a different reason for every one of Luck's interceptions, but making throws like this one could help Luck stand out from the rest.
Embrace the New Offensive Scheme
Well, new may be relative.
The arrival of Pep Hamilton as the Colts' offensive coordinator was a big change from Bruce Arians and his playbook that essentially had the receivers continually go deep and hope for Luck to escape the pressure and make play after play.
Hamilton's offensive scheme will likely be quite familiar to Luck, as both worked together during their days at Stanford. The new game plan for the Colts has been described as the "No Coast Offense", and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had this to say about it, per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com:
So, ironically, you can feel the footprint of Peyton Manning and that offense still in this playbook, stuff that they’ve done. Stuff that was good with Reggie Wayne. Stuff that was just good for the guys here, that’s worked with Clyde Christensen, the quarterbacks coach. Then there is a good element of the stuff that Bruce Arians had success with last year that worked with Andrew (Luck). Then there is the stuff that Pep did at Stanford with Jim Harbaugh and kind of what the 49ers are doing.
There appear to be some big differences between the offenses under Hamilton and Arians. Among the big changes will be the expectation of Luck getting rid of the ball quicker.
Shorter routes will likely help take a lot of the pressure off of Luck that he was continually facing last season. After being sacked 41 times and pressured countless other times, keeping Luck upright will be vital to the team's success. Additions to the offensive line, including Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas, will likely help.
Establishing a more balanced attack will help Luck succeed as well. According to a report from Craig Kelly of Colts.com, Hamilton was recently quoted as saying that the Colts will be using a power running game in the offense.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard will be key pieces in determining whether Luck can be elite in 2013. Both guys will have to be productive backs that can keep defenses guessing and keep the offense from being too one-dimensional like it was in 2012 when it ranked No. 26 in yards per carry with 3.8.
A more consistent running game will open up the field for Luck to complete more passes, and as long as Luck and company continue to stick with the game plan, Luck's numbers will look much better in his sophomore campaign.
Utilize the Tight Ends
The Colts may very well have one of the best tight end duos in the NFL heading into this season thanks to Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Using both of these guys in the passing game will be critical to the Luck's success, and they could be the biggest playmakers on offense under Hamilton's new scheme.
Plenty of writers, including myself, are predicting very big things from Fleener. Pete Prisco from CBSSports.com shared his opinion on Fleener, as well as Allen.
Coby Fleener might be one of the most improved players on any roster. And Dwayne Allen is a beast— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) August 1, 2013
There's no doubt that Fleener could break out in 2013 as long as he stays healthy. All you have to do is watch this tape from his senior season to know what Hamilton could do with Fleener on offense.
At 6'6'', Fleener is an intimidating guy downfield that runs like a receiver. It's hard to not like his style of play in the passing game, even if he isn't the best blocker at the position.
Thankfully, that's where Allen comes in.
Where will Luck rank as a QB in 2013?
Allen was praised throughout the regular season as being an excellent blocker in the passing and running games. He's a different player from Fleener, but just as essential.
Even with the perception of Allen being a bruiser on the line, he actually made some big plays throughout the 2012 campaign. He finished the season with the best numbers for a rookie tight end with 45 receptions for 521 yards and three touchdowns.
Perhaps the biggest play from Allen all season came against the Detroit Lions, going for 40 yards on a tight end screen pass seen here. Allen can turn on the jets despite his size and showed time and time again that he could be a reliable target.
Tight ends are sometimes described as security blankets for quarterbacks, and Luck has two of the best in the NFL. Taking advantage of these incredibly talented players could not only mean big things for the team, but big things for Luck.
At the end of the day, it's going to be hard for Luck to break into that top five group of quarterbacks, but he's certainly getting close. There's a lot to like about his game, and his work ethic even drew comparisons to Peyton Manning from his teammate Reggie Wayne, according to Pro Football Talk.
Reggie Wayne sees some Peyton Manning in Andrew Luck http://t.co/tTdvvbvQKX— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 7, 2013
While Luck may not be at the same level Manning is at, he's surely on his way there. The 2013 season looks to be a good one for Luck, and the likelihood of a second straight Pro Bowl appearance seems to be pretty high.
Can Luck do everything he needs to to be a top-five QB? We will find out in just under a month.