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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Andrew Luck exemplifies coach Chuck Pagano’s do-your-job philosophy. Now he has to lead the team.

Luck is vet who must lead

The owner is on Twitter again, ranting and throwing a Twantrum. The head coach talks about execution and process and precedent as if they’re talismans. And, yes, Reggie Wayne is still out of the lineup, an increasingly bigger deal every week.

Trouble. Oh, the Colts are seeing you now.

They’re still 7-4 and leading their division, but it feels like 4-7 and time running out at the moment, after that no-show in the desert. That’s two blowout losses plus two skittish wins (27-24 over the crash-dummy Texans and 30-27 over the Titans) since Wayne went down with the blown knee, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that they’re not the same team without him.

Which is where your quarterback has to step up and make you that team.

That’s a heavy burden and no doubt an unfair one as well, but this is a quarterback-driven league and that means this is Andrew Luck’s team now, and he needs to take ownership of it. Even if it’s not particularly his nature.

“I try not to look at things through the perspective of anybody else,” Luck said. “I really have to worry about my job first. I think we have great veteran leadership. I’ve always been very impressed by that from my first day in the building. I think guys respond well to adversity. … We all know where we need to improve, myself first, in that sense.”

That’s straight gospel from the book of Chuck Pagano, and it reflects well on Luck’s coachability and the quick-study way he buys in. “Do your job,” after all, is the Pagano mantra, along with sticking to process and executing and making plays when the plays are there to be made.

“You got to stick to your fundamentals, stick to your technique, stick to just doing your job and do it on a consistent basis,” Pagano says. “You beat people with sound football – tough, hard-nosed, physical, disciplined. I know our guys are tough and physical and they’re going to play with great effort, just got to play more consistent for 60 minutes.”

“We know who we are,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman adds. “We still believe in everything we do. We got the guys to do it, so we’ll be all right.”

All well and good, and absolutely true. But sooner or later, if you’re gonna stop the roller coaster (“It’s good to be able to bounce back, but we shouldn’t have to be able to do it every other week. It should be a consistent roll,” Freeman says), someone has to physically stop it. And that someone, sooner or later, is your quarterback.

You want to see even-keel calm from that guy, and Luck exudes it. But you also want to see an acknowledgment that, when Luck talks about the veteran leadership on the Colts, he understands that he’s part of it now, even if he’s less than two seasons deep in his NFL career.

“I don’t think you need to do it too much,” he says instead. “There’s always great dialogue in this locker room about, ‘Hey, I think we should be doing this, or that.’ That’s vets to the younger guys, within your position group.”

And beyond your position group?

Well, that’s where you need that one distinctive voice. In a lot of ways that was Wayne, and no doubt it still is. But it’s different now, obviously. There’s more to his loss than just the physical loss, just the obvious numbers depletion – the Colts are down to four wide receivers now – and the way Luck has struggled at times without his go-to guy.

“We know it’s going to be a team effort to right this ship,” he said. “It’s not going to be one guy that pulls a team through. It’ll be a bunch.”

But it’s one guy who has to show the way.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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