High expectations, meet Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck, by the end of the 2010 season, could become an All-America candidate. The sophomore, in fact, is already generating NFL draft hype -- and questions.
There are a couple of reasons for this: 1. He's a major talent; 2. He led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman. In other words, potential and production.
He's 6-foot-4, 234 pounds and he moves well. He's got an outstanding arm. He's smart. He's grounded. His father, Oliver, is a former NFL quarterback.
Red flags? None, other than the Stanford banners being waved by folks who are starting to imagine that Luck can lead the Cardinal back to the Rose Bowl.
The obvious challenge for him going forward into 2010 -- other than managing his growing stardom -- will be leading an offense that is only replacing college football's best running back: Toby Gerhart, who produced 28 touchdowns last fall.
That's a lot of production walking out the door into the NFL.
Stanford finished spring practices last weekend, so it seemed like a good time to check in with Luck as he heads into his offseason.
Last year you were a green-around-the-gills redshirt freshman: Do you feel like a veteran quarterback now?
Andrew Luck: A little bit. One year does make a whole lot of difference.
How tough was it to sit out the Sun Bowl last year due to a broken finger?
AL: It was tough. If you asked any athlete who goes through the entire regular season and doesn't get to partake in the postseason or the bowl game, it's not going to be fun. It was tough. But that being said, I was happy for Tavita [Pritchard] to get a chance to play because he had done so many great things for me during the season and helped me out so much. I was excited for him.
Tell me how you feel spring practice went: What went well and what do you guys still need to work on?
AL: Overall, I thought spring was extremely competitive. There were a lot of physical practices. A lot of guys flying around, getting better. Personally, I felt like I improved on my grasp of the offense and sort of evolving into being a leader on the team. As far as the fall, we've just got to keep working on getting ourselves in good position to run a good play and take care of our assignments.
Toby Gerhart was a workhorse. He scored 28 touchdowns. How does the offense evolve without him? How will you look different?
AL: Toby was special. He did a lot of great things. I think we'll probably have to throw the ball more. The running backs will be a little bit more by committee as opposed to one workhorse shouldering the load. People are going to have to step up at different positions. It will be exciting though.
When you have a Heisman Trophy candidate in your backfield, it takes the attention off you, the pressure off you. Do you feel like now your role has changed and you are now the center of attention, the guy with the pressure on him to carry the load, not to mention all the chatter about your being a future No. 1 NFL draft pick?
AL: It's definitely different. Toby was definitely the man for the whole team last year. I try not to pay much attention to all that [draft talk]. I can easily get myself in trouble if I start getting into all that. I tried to put more pressure on myself this spring to step up and shoulder the load of the team more.
Everybody has a different style of leading: How do you plan to become more of a leader that fits in with your personality?
AL: I think I need to work on being more vocal. I tend to be quiet sometimes, even when I do have something to say. I've been working on that a little more. Honestly, we have a bunch of great leaders on the offense, like [receiver] Ryan Whalen and the older guys on the offensive line, Andy Phillips and Chase Beeler. It's not like one guy has to motivate everyone else to come out and do extra work. People want to do it any way. In that regard, it's almost easy being a quarterback on this team. But I do need to work on being a little more vocal.
Are you able to block out the NFL speculation, or are you at least curious about the draft gurus already talking about you?
AL: I honestly try to block it out as much as possible. I don't think about it. It's a long way off for me. If I do start thinking about it, I know I'll get myself in trouble.
You know people mention that you, as a third-year player, could conceivably leave for the draft after this season?
AL: I honestly haven't thought about it. My only priority right now is next season and hopefully winning the national championship.
Speaking of the offense: Who else stepped up this spring, other than the guys like Whalen and receiver Chris Owusu, who everybody knows about?
AL: A couple of young receivers did a heck of a job this spring. Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell really stepped their game up a lot. And the running backs, Jeremy Stewart, who played two years ago but hurt his foot last year, did a heck of a job this offseason, as well as Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney.
You get to play against them every day in practice: It sounds like the defense showed some spark this spring with new coordinator Vic Fangio.
AL: Definitely. They are a little saltier than they were last year. [Sophomore inside linebacker] Shayne Skov is doing a heck of a job. It's really fun to see him grow after going up against him last year. You could tell during training camp last year that he was a great athlete and a great football player but maybe he didn't have his whole head wrapped around the scheme they were trying to run. You could tell he was running around not knowing what he was doing. Now he's flying around making plays all over the field. The secondary is doing a heck of a job, making a lot of plays and really putting pressure on our receivers to step their game up and putting pressure on me to step my game up. It's been very competitive.