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Year 3 of Luck era in Indy: NFL crown or more work to do?

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Andrew Luck is entering only his third NFL season.

Yet his heavy résumé belies that reality.

Already on the cusp of super-stardom, he’s twice guided the Colts to the playoffs and been to two Pro Bowls.

He’s also won a playoff game, has engineered countless fourth-quarter comebacks, is 1-0 against Peyton Manning and is universally regarded as one of the NFL’s top-tier quarterbacks.

On Luck’s watch, the Colts have finished 11-5 the past two seasons, have redefined “rebuilding” and enter training camp widely projected as Super Bowl contenders.

So, where would the Colts be without Luck?

The answer is self-evident. With a young roster that still lacks star power, the Colts would perhaps be only marginally better than they were three years ago, when they bottomed out at 2-14.

But the opposite is true, which is the great news about Luck. Indy truly hit the jackpot with the No. 1 pick, and the payoff is only just beginning — as was the case in 1998, when it hit the jackpot with Peyton Manning with the No. 1 pick.

You know the story.

Through most of the Manning era, the Colts were prolific winners. They dominated the AFC South, went to two Super Bowls, won one and were, in any given season, the talk of the NFL — largely because of one player, their quarterback.

And here they are again, winning frequently, challenging for division titles, going to the playoffs and at the center of the Super Bowl conversation — largely because of one player, their quarterback.

That’s an eery similarity.

Not long ago, the collective internal question in Indy was: Where would the Colts be without Peyton Manning?

In 2011, we found out. The result was not pretty.

Though surrounded by some Pro Bowl pieces, there was no mistaking that Manning was not only the foundation but was the franchise. The bulk of the Colts’ investment during that time was, to the detriment of other positions, notably on the defensive side, designed to get the max from Manning. That was fine when he was healthy, but it was disastrous when he wasn’t.

In the aftermath of housecleaning, owner Jim Irsay vowed not to make the same mistake with Luck. Future investments would be roster-wide, not narrowly focused.

To date, Irsay has done just that. Money has been spent across the offensive and defensive spectrum, and the Colts are at least attempting not to make Luck the sole attraction.

But there’s a problem. Luck is too good, too soon. In time, younger teammates might catch up. But for the moment, the spotlight is on Luck. Because when all else fails, as the running game often did last season, it all comes down to Luck.

Injuries? Luck trumps them. Defensive breakdowns? Luck compensates for them. Broken plays? Luck overcomes them.

Uncommonly talented, tough, savvy and intelligent, he is the kind of player — barring injury — destined to win more than one Super Bowl. Provided, that is, investments continue to made across the roster, and not just behind center.

Year No. 3 of the Luck era will be telling. If it all doesn’t ride on his shoulders, then the Super Bowl is a realistic destination. But if it all comes down to him, we’ll know rebuilding still isn’t finished. Accelerated, maybe, but not finished.

Luck might be way ahead of the curve, but patience should still be the operative word for fans.

Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to rmorwick@dailyjournal.net.

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