Luck holds court with media

Coming off a 12-1 season, an Orange Bowl victory and a Heisman runner-up, there is certainly more pressure on Stanford heading into this year. But much like they did during the 2010 campaign, the Cardinal's heady players aren't allowing the outside hype to go to their heads. Here, The Bootleg catches up with a former high school valedictorian, Andrew Luck.

Coaching Carousel

Andrew Luck didn't want to say the revamped coaching staff wasn't as intense as last year's, but because of Jim Harbaugh's and David Shaw's respective personalities, you can assume it might be so.

He also didn't want to compare the two staffs. He said he's enjoyed working with Shaw and Hamilton, and that hearing different opinions and vantage points has been helpful.

"Practices have been going very smooth," said Luck. "[Shaw and Hamilton] are very detail-oriented, which is great for me and great for the younger quarterbacks. Spring ball is a big individual growing time, opposed to more of a team focus."

You have to really nitpick to find flaws in Luck's game, but he would be the first to tell you there is room for improvement. There are a couple of specific things he, Shaw and Hamilton have zeroed in on this spring.

"I can always improve in everything, but we're really focusing on footwork this spring," he said. "And then cutting down on the three really bad decisions a game I think I made. Maybe like eating a ball instead of trying to fit it in there or throwing it out of bounds, just little things like that."

Receiver Fever

It's no secret the wide receiving corps took a hit when Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin left The Farm. Chris Owusu is the only proven wideout returning and his health is always a concern. A guy like Griff Whalen could be poised for a breakout season, but Luck understands establishing chemistry with this young unit will take time.

"We're definitely going back to square one in terms of wide receivers," he said. "We have to go back and build up a comfort zone. The guys have definitely shown a hunger to get better, which I'm really excited about."

Luck said he's not concerned about inexperience at the position. In his eyes, players are working hard on the details and eager to get extra work in. Luck even said that going back to the basics with most of them should help him improve as well.

"Starting from the very beginning, I think I can reassess how I was approaching certain plays or throwing certain routes," he stated. "And every wide receiver is different so they're going to run routes differently, so that will definitely get me to open my eyes a little more."

Terrorizing Tight Ends

Play-action out of the power formation was money for the Cardinal last season. Luck regularly connected with a streaking tight end over the middle for hefty gains.

Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener return as a formidable tight-end tandem this season. Fleener finished tied for third on the team with 28 receptions and seven touchdowns. Ertz nabbed 16 passes and five of those went for scores. These two guys combined for four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl alone.

More of the same can be expected this season. And if Levine Toilolo returns with a full bill of health, Luck may not have to rely as much on the inexperienced wideouts.

"[Fleener and Ertz] should be one of the hardest parts of our offense to defend, because they're both big, fast, can block and can catch," Luck said. "They definitely aren't satisfied either. These guys are two of the hardest working on the team, and they're constantly trying to improve their game to a higher level. They should be an integral part of our offense."

Quarterbackup

As common with most teams, the upperclassman Luck is helping along the young quarterbacks this spring who are vying for the backup job. He didn't want to talk about how the competition was shaking out as he's not the coach, but he does like what he's seen so far.

"The young quarterbacks are coming along very well. They're all really hard workers…smart, intelligent people and they're progressing nicely," he said. "No one is shirking away from the competition. No one is fumbling snaps or making terrible throws. They're all handling their business, and it's great they keep pushing each other."

Beeline to the O-line

Other than the receivers, constructing an offensive line is another concern for Stanford this spring. The loss of Andrew Phillips, Chase Beeler and Derek Hall will be difficult to overcome, but two starters do return. Luck isn't overly concerned about his protection up front at this point.

"I don't think there's concern; I think there's an anticipation about who's going to take over," he said. "Last year we lost Chris Marinelli at right tackle, a huge spot, and Derek Hall, somewhat of an unknown, stepped in and arguably played better than anybody on the offensive line all year."

Luck added that the line competition has been heated, but that nobody has pads on yet, so it's hard to assess where guys stand.

He also said that once someone asserts himself as the starting center, he and that player will have to build a bonding relationship.

"I think that's integral to a quarterback in terms of not having to think about getting the snap, just making that second nature," Luck said. "And having a confidence level that he's going to make the right protection call on the line."

Some have speculated that Sam Schwartzstein has the edge over Khalil Wilkes because Luck and Schwartzstein lived together during the offseason. But Luck dispelled that notion and said the best player will get the job. Both are getting equal reps in practice, per Shaw.

Looking for Leaders

Shaw told the media last Friday that, going into spring practice, the staff was hoping to identify team leaders. Shaw, Pep Hamilton and Derek Mason emphasized this would be a different squad in 2011. Luck confirmed the team identity would change and that it would develop during the spring.

"It's weird when you lose so many personalities and big-time players like Andy Phillips, Chase Beeler, Richard Sherman and Sione Fua," he said. "It's different to go out on the field and see your class be in leadership roles."

Luck has never been the most vocal guy on the team, but admitted he's grown in terms of voicing his opinion.

"I think anytime you're a returning quarterback who's played a significant amount, your leadership role is always going to grow," he stated. "You're always going to have a further-reaching influence. I definitely try to make my opinion heard if I feel like it's necessary."

Luck said that while new leaders must accept those roles, he doesn't expect guys to try and be somebody they aren't. He specifically mentioned that David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin have been leaders through the first few days of spring ball.

Under Pressure

Coming off a 12-1 season, an Orange Bowl victory and a Heisman runner-up, there is certainly more pressure on Stanford heading into this year. But much like they did during the 2010 campaign, the Cardinal's heady players aren't allowing the outside hype to go to their heads.

"I think as players, we're putting more pressure on ourselves to compete and win the Pac-12 Championship," said Luck. "We try not to let outside pressure affect how we go about things though. But everyone is trying to put a little more pressure on ourselves to not waste days and do everything correctly."

Luck confirmed the overall team goal is the same as last year—win the conference title.

"If that occurs, then everything else will fall into place in terms of personal and other team goals," he said.

Insurance Plan

After Andrew Luck decided to come back for another year of college football, some blasted him for leaving millions of dollars on the table. Luck will still make plenty of money in the NFL one day, but if by some unfortunate circumstance he is significantly injured this season, measures are being taken to ensure he still gets paid.

"I got a call from my dad one day and he said, ‘Your mother has a form for some insurance policy, so you're going to need to fill it out,'" Luck said. "I really didn't know the details of it."

Luck admitted that even though he mother has nagged, he still hasn't finished the form and sent it back. He said he is letting his parents take care of the process but he does have to get Bob Bowlsby's signature on the paperwork.

The policy amount is rumored to be $5 million. Apparently, Colt McCoy took out a similar plan before returning for his senior year at Texas. But Luck said he was never the one concerned about what might happen; it was only his parents taking precaution.

"I don't think it's affected me in any mental capacity," said Luck, who couldn't recall ever having a concussion. "I try not to think about getting injured, or money, or any of that. I'm just trying to enjoy college and enjoy college football."

About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as BookMaker, Covers and Red Hott Locks. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at scottwcooley@gmail.com


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