Like Peyton in 1998, Luck instantly becomes the cornerstone in Indy's biggest overhaul since 1998. He should start immediately after playing in a pro-style system at Stanford, where he was originally tutored by former Colts quarterback and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
But now he's eager to find out who will be his rookie classmates — perhaps even one of his college teammates, tight end Coby Fleener or tackle Jonathan Martin, neither of whom was drafted in the first round.
The Colts have nine more picks during draft weekend, with two Friday and seven Saturday including the final pick of the weekend, No. 253. It's the first time since 1967 that a non-expansion team will have both the first and last picks of the draft. Houston did that in its expansion season of 2002.
What Indy does with its other picks is anybody's guess.
The Colts need help at almost every position on offense, and Pagano is looking for size and depth on defense so he can run his preferred 3-4 scheme rather than Indy's traditional 4-3. He's already moved Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis to linebacker and the Colts' other Pro Bowl end, Dwight Freeney, was playing both defensive end and linebacker at Thursday's workout.
And Indy is in the midst of a major rebuilding project.
Team owner Jim Irsay cleaned out the front office and changed coaching staffs in January and February. Then came the player moves in March.
The Colts released Manning on March 7 rather than paying him $28 million. Two days later, Indy cut defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt and former Pro Bowlers Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai. They lost longtime center Jeff Saturday and emerging receiver Pierre Garcon in free agency and even dipped into free-agency to improve a leaky defense and an unproven offensive line.
But the biggest challenge in 2012, like it was in 1998, will be breaking in a new quarterback.
Luck threw for 35 touchdowns last season — breaking his school record of 32 in 2010 — and eclipsed Elway's career record (77) at Stanford with 80 touchdown passes in only three seasons. He finished with 3,170 yards passing, a 70 percent completion percentage and only nine interceptions without the benefit of an elite wide receiver in 2011.
The choice means Indy has a rare opportunity to transition from one star quarterback to another.
Miami and Denver are more the norm. Each team has spent more than a decade searching for replacements for Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and John Elway, who was drafted by the Baltimore Colts at No. 1 in 1983.
The exceptions, of course, are Green Bay and San Francisco. Both teams made seamless transitions, from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and Joe Montana to Steve Young. All four quarterbacks won Super Bowls and the Colts are hoping they'll join that list.
Luck thinks he can do it, but only if he can play like his old self.
"I realize you could go crazy trying to measure yourself to Peyton Manning every day. That would be an insane way to live," Luck told local reporters during a conference call. "I know his legendary status, really. He was my hero growing up. Huge shoes to try and fill if you're trying to do that. I'll just put my best foot forward and work hard every day. If one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton as one of the football greats, that would be a football dream come true."
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