KRAVITZ: With McDaniels on the way, the pressure (as always) is on Luck to become Indy’s Brady

New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels watches from the sideline during an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass. on Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Bob Kravitz

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WTHR) - Josh McDaniels has waited. Even after his failure in Denver, he’s interviewed for head coaching jobs several times over the last few years, but every time, he’s pulled himself out of consideration despite his status as THE hot coordinator of the moment. Every time, he’s gone back to the nest, made himself comfortable beside Bill Belichick, won more Super Bowls and waited for the right time, the right team, the right set of circumstances.

Finally, he’s found it.

Better yet, he’s found him.

Andrew Luck, that is.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady confers with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, in Foxborough, Mass. on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

McDaniels isn’t coming to Indy for the money or the housing prices; he’s coming to Indy to work with Luck, who will now be asked – required – to do more and lead more than he’s ever done before. Luck, who looked like a budding generational talent his first three years, will be asked to do for the Colts what Tom Brady has done for the New England Patriots. We all understand, a handful (or more) of Super Bowl victories is an absurd standard, but Luck will be pushed to do for the Colts’ new culture what Brady has done in Foxboro.

The pressure now is on Luck to get healthy and stay healthy, and he is heading to California to work with two throwing experts who are charged with returning him to his old form. But that will be only the start. When he returns, he will be responsible for mastering his fourth offensive philosophy in six years.

“Andrew is going to get challenged in ways he’s never been challenged,’’ former Colt and current Patriot tight end Dwayne Allen was saying.

It’s time for him to lead, truly lead, even if he’s uncomfortable with calling out teammates who fail to live up to the standard that’s been set. Over the years, Luck has been the perfect teammate, the guy who got sacked five times, then told the press, “Our guys played their butts off.’’ No more. No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more sparing everybody’s precious feelings while engaging in self-flagellation – “I made a bonehead mistake.’’

Make no mistake: McDaniels said yes to Indy after saying no to so many other teams because of Luck’s presence. And while we still don’t know if Luck will be healthy, it’s safe to say that McDaniels would not have accepted this job if he had any significant concerns about Luck’s availability. He has a chance, still, to become a generational talent, and now he’s got a generational coaching talent in McDaniels to mold and guide him – assuming, as the Colts have, that McDaniels has grown since his failed tenure in Denver eight years ago.

It could be a beautiful marriage.

It needs to be a beautiful marriage.

“No play is good without good players who execute it,’’ McDaniels was saying this week at Super Bowl LII, where the Patriots will be facing the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday. “We can all sit here and draw up a bunch of pretty-looking plays. The guys who win the play are the players. So if you’re putting together some play or plan that they can’t execute, it’s a bad play or a bad plan.’’

Indianapolis Colts' T.Y. Hilton (13) makes a catch against San Francisco 49ers' Dontae Johnson during overtime of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Indianapolis. Indianapolis won 26-23. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Early on, it’s going to be a challenge, depending on what kind of work general managers Chris Ballard does this off-season. He’s got roughly $80 million at his disposal in free agency and will enjoy the third pick in each round of the draft.

The offensive line remains a mess, just as it’s been since Peyton Manning was jettisoned. My guess is that Ballard will spend a healthy portion of his free agent cash on that position group. Understand, college linemen take time to develop, most of them having come from spread offenses that do not require the same skillsets that the pro game demands. All things being equal, it makes more sense to bring aboard established NFL linemen who understand the pro game.

There’s T.Y. Hilton, a terrific deep threat, and there’s Jack Doyle, a productive, do-everything tight end, but beyond that…not much. My guess is Donte Moncrief, the underachieving wide receiver, will not be retained. Chester Rogers showed flashes, but he’s not a game-changer. There’s work to be done here.

One area Ballard must address is running back, where he has Marlon Mack, a homerun hitter but not yet a three-down back, and Robert Turbin, a short-yardage back. One thing the Patriots have always done is utilize their running backs in the passing game, something the Colts haven’t done particularly well in recent years.

“We know there’s no position group that’s going to touch the ball more, other than the quarterbacks,’’ McDaniels said of his running backs. “So whether you hand it to them, screen it to them, spread them out and throw to them out of the backfield, they’re going to have the ball in space because they’re the best runners on your team. We’ve always believed in that.’’

In the end, though, it’s got to be all about the same things that have made the Patriots a dynasty: A great coach and a great quarterback. Not only that, but a great quarterback who can not only throw deep, as Luck can do, but one who is willing to get the ball out of his hands quickly and make those rapid throws to his backs and his slot receiver. That will not only be beneficial for the offense, but it figures to keep Luck out of harm’s way – see: the offensive line – and keep him healthier than he’s been thus far in his career.

Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels celebrates a touchdown in front of head coach Bill Belichick, right, during an NFL divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, Jan. 13, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Look, there was no talk of the Browns Way when Bill Belichick was in Cleveland from 1991-95. There was no talk of the Patriots’ culture when Belichick was struggling through his first few years in New England. No, all this talk began once Brady became Brady, starting with that Sunday in 2001 when the favored Colts traveled to New England and got spanked by the Patriots, who were starting a certain no-name sixth-round pick for the very first time.

If Jim Irsay is going to get his oft-stated wish of not only winning a Super Bowl, but multiple Super Bowls, Luck will not only have to return to the form he showed his first three years, but return as an even better quarterback.

“I know I’ll be better from this,’’ Luck said earlier this year. “I know I’ll be a better quarterback, teammate, person and player from this, and I’m excited for the future.’’

Now he’s got a new man to guide him to his massive, full potential. They will need each other, just like Belichick and McDaniels needed Brady. Health willing, this could work out just fine.

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