Luck takes on bigger role for Stanford offense
STANFORD – Whenever Andrew Luck faced a dicey situation in his first season as Stanford’s starting quarterback, he knew he always had Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart to help him handle it.
With his powerful, touchdown-producing running back off to the NFL, Luck is getting used to life without his security blanket.
“I got over the strangeness part in spring ball,” Luck said Wednesday. “Toby was great but I don’t think we can dwell on him forever. I love him to death but we have to move forward.”
Stanford is moving forward this season with a team centered around Luck instead of Gerhart. The Cardinal are coming off an 8-5 season that ended with their first bowl game in eight years.
Now Luck is looking to lead Stanford to a bowl game in consecutive seasons for just the fourth time since 1936. He’ll have to do it without Gerhart, who ran for 1,871 yards and scored 28 touchdowns last season.
His teammates believe he is fully up to the task.
“Andrew is a great talent,” said running back Jeremy Stewart, one of the players trying to replace Gerhart. “He has all the intangibles. He can make any throw on the field. He’s really athletic. People don’t know how athletic he is. He’s a great leader and everybody loves him.”
Luck, who sat out his freshman year as a redshirt, completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 2,575 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions despite missing the Sun Bowl loss to Oklahoma with a broken right index finger.
From his poise on the field to his ease at handling interviews, it’s clear Luck is a different quarterback than the one who arrived at camp last year as a heralded but unproven prospect.
“I have a lot more confidence,” he said. “Playing a year is a whole world of experience that you can’t practice, you can’t simulate. That’s a big part of it.”
Luck’s finger was fully recovered by spring ball and he spent part of his summer at the Manning family’s annual football camp in Louisiana, where he got to learn from an NFL great like Peyton Manning and compare notes with other top college passers.
Luck also spent time at ESPN’s campus in Connecticut and is considered one of the top pro prospects heading into what could be his final collegiate season if he chooses to enter the NFL draft.
Along with dealing with defenses, Luck is dealing with managing the hype that now surrounds him.
“One part is great because Stanford’s name is getting out there more,” he said. “Anytime my name is mentioned, Stanford is mentioned. I try not to pay attention to it too much. I understand I honestly haven’t done squat on the football field. If I do get a big head, my teammates will keep me well-grounded. They don’t let me get away with much.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh said that Luck exceeded even the lofty expectations the Cardinal had for him his first season. But the coaching staff expects even more this season.
Two of the specific improvements Harbaugh is looking for from his star quarterback are getting the ball out quicker and more red zone production.
“Making the tight throw that needs to be made in the red zone,” Harbaugh said. “Things happen faster, quicker. There are tighter throws in the red zone. He’s done a nice job. He’s really worked hard. He’s made the changes over the summer in his drop that we were looking for. He is really looking good.”
Luck threw only six of his 13 touchdown passes a year ago from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Luck’s most notable red zone pass ended horribly for the Cardinal.
With Stanford driving for the go-ahead score late in the Big Game against California, Luck’s pass from the 13-yard line to Coby Fleener in the end zone was intercepted by linebacker Mike Mohamed with 1:03 left to seal the victory for the Golden Bears and end Stanford’s hopes of a Pac-10 title.
“If you make a bad decision down there, you’ll have to pay for it in a much more costly way than maybe out in the open field,” Luck said. “I’m just trying to work on making those decisions a little quicker and with more decisiveness.”
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