Manning, Luck succeed from 2 sides of spectrum


Manning, Luck succeed from 2 sides of spectrum

The numbers and the standings will change, but heading into this week's games, they were lined up too perfectly to ignore.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning reached the halfway point of the season with a 5-3 record and 2,404 yards passing.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck reached the halfway point of the season with a 5-3 record and 2,404 yards passing.

Though Manning, the 15-year veteran, and Luck, the rookie out of Stanford, are hardly mirror images, their fates over the past 12 months have been as interconnected as their numbers were entering this week.

And so far, this has all the makings of a win-win situation for both teams and both quarterbacks.

Colts interim head coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who also worked with Manning when he was a rookie, says Manning was great in his first year and Luck is every bit as good.

``He's light years ahead of where we thought he would be,'' Arians said. ``There's nothing really left to put in the playbook that we haven't installed, and he's been extremely good in clutch situations.''

Had the Colts chosen not to part ways with Manning - the quarterback who essentially defined the franchise for a decade and a half - they may still have picked Luck first in the draft. But chances are he'd be watching, not playing.

There's no crystal ball to tell how that would've gone. But installing Luck as the starter is working out just fine.

If the playoffs had begun at the season's midpoint, the Broncos and Colts, who beat Jacksonville 27-10 on Thursday night, would have been matched up for a first-round game. Despite that, despite the winning record and the 10 touchdown passes, Luck only gave himself a `C' when asked for his own midseason grade.

``I think a perfect grade would be if you won every game, didn't have any incompletions, no interceptions, so we'll keep working until we get to there,'' he said.

Some things he's doing, however, go well beyond average.

This week, Luck's jersey was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he threw for a rookie record 433 yards in a 23-20 win over Miami on Sunday. With that performance, he joined Manning as the only other player to throw for 300-plus yards four times in his first year.

While many teams will dumb down offenses, or build them to fit specific skills of rookie quarterbacks (see the Redskins and Robert Griffin III or the Seahawks and Russell Wilson), Luck is essentially working with a complex, pro-style offense - and is also asked to pick up the slack for a running game ranked 19th in the league.

Despite the running game, and despite receiver Reggie Wayne standing as Indy's only ``big name'' playmaker, the Colts have the NFL's fourth-ranked offense. Luck has won close games (three-point wins over Miami, Minnesota and Green Bay and an overtime win over Tennessee), has engineered big comebacks (from 21-3 down against the Packers) and has quickly gained the confidence of his teammates.

``He has definitely come in and helped us win games,'' Wayne said. ``For the offense, he's put us in good situations to make plays. He's made some unbelievable throws, especially on the run. He's used his feet well.''

While Luck has been piling up yards, his quarterback rating was only 79.0, 25th in the NFL, in part because he completed only 56.5 percent of his passes and was averaging an interception per game. The Colts, meanwhile, still have two games left against AFC South leader Houston and one game at New England. Daunting.

Still, with a rookie quarterback and coming off a 2-14 season, there weren't many people picking the Colts as playoff contenders in 2012.

``I'm really pleased with where he's at, his competitiveness, his spirit, his grit, leadership,'' Arians said. ``Those are things you hope you have in a quarterback, and he's got them all.''

Denver's schedule was frontloaded - Houston, New England, Atlanta and Pittsburgh were among the first five opponents. Because of that, and because Manning was coming off injury and starting with a new team, expectations weren't that high for early in the season.

But after a 2-3 start, the Broncos have won three straight. It's an understatement to say Manning has been rounding into form. He has completed nearly 76 percent of his passes over the last five games. He leads the league in passer rating (108.6) and has 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He says he always expected to improve as the season wore on.

``I think you never stop learning,'' Manning said. ``Eight games and I'm in my 15th year, you're still learning, but I think we're working to try to get on the same page and trying to be more productive each week than we were the week before.''

When he chose Denver, Manning's ability to bounce back from his injury was every bit as big an unknown as how Luck would respond to his first year in the NFL. As the season has gone on and the Broncos' offense has risen to the top of the AFC West behind the league's fourth-ranked passing game, questions about Manning's arm strength have all but disappeared. The chemistry Manning built with Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark in Indianapolis is slowly seeping into the offense in Denver, where Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Joel Dreessen are getting the hang of doing things Manning's way.

``I think the more we get on the same page, the more we understand nonverbal cues, certain routes and how to read defenses,'' said Decker, who has caught touchdown passes in five straight games. ``All of those things, you can use to your advantage offensively. We're definitely clicking more as a unit offensively.''

When Manning chose Denver, he was very clear about his goals. The decision, he said, was about winning now. At 36 and with the injury he was returning from, he knows there aren't many more seasons left to win another Super Bowl.

``I realize I don't have 14 years left, by any means,'' Manning said on the day he signed.

Luck, on the other hand, might. And he certainly wasn't joining a team that was one, or even two or three pieces away from Super Bowl contention.

Or so the Colts thought.

Asked to compare the quarterbacks at this stage in their careers, Arians said he'd give Luck the nod, mainly because they've asked him to do more than they asked from Manning.

``Peyton, we gave two or three plays in the huddle, he was great at that phase of it, but we didn't do the no-huddle until his second year,'' Arians said. ``I think (Luck's) a step ahead only because of what we're asking him to do. And he's doing it with a bunch of rookies, whereas Peyton had some really good players on that team.''


AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.


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Kelly Oubre Jr. signs multi-year shoe deal with Converse

Kelly Oubre Jr. signs multi-year shoe deal with Converse

Wizards forward and fashion icon Kelly Oubre Jr. is helping to bring  Converse back to the basketball world. The once popular basketball brand is making a major push to get back on the scene and is signing Oubre Jr. to a multi-year footwear and apparel deal, according to ESPN.

The multi-year shoe deal comes just after Oubre Jr.'s contract with Adidas expired Oct. 1, according to ESPN which first reported the news, leaving him as an attractive choice for shoe deals that came flooding in such as Puma and New Balance. Ultimately, the 22-year-old wing decided on Converse, in a one-of-a-kind deal that has Oubre wearing the Nike-owned brand on and off the court.

Converse, most known for their Chuck-Taylor All-Stars that have made a comeback in recent years, was famously worn in the 60's by NBA and college basketball players alike. 

Oubre Jr. is no stranger to fashion. In fact, he views himself as a kind of "rock star," and brings the swagger that comes with his sense of style to the court. In an interview with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller last year, Oubre said fashion is an important aspect to his game and looks to the rapper, Travis Scott for inspiration.

"I think I'm a rock star. That's how I kind of go about it," he said. "My game kind of represents my fashion, just going hard, raging and screaming to the crowd and all that stuff. I was a rapper, I would be Travis Scott. Just know that."

Converse is known for its rock star reputation, sponsoring big names such as Tyler the Creator more recently, and Kurt Cobain in the early 90s. The Ramones famously wore them on stage and in cover art, and Wiz Khalifa, Ice Cube and The Game have all worn them. 

The brand introduced Oubre Jr. as its latest sponsorship in a YouTube video featuring the song "Attitude" by The Misfits, which Converse also famously sponsored.

The Tsunami Papi's revival of Converse will bring a certain swagger to the brand that was lost on basketball stars in the early 80's. Now, the 22-year-old Oubre will have the opportunity to bring his creativity and style to the brand.

"They have dope canvases that a lot of people can make a dope creation on," said Oubre in an interview with ESPN. "I just want to continue to create that legacy and that wave to make the brand look good."



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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 


Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

In his first year as an NHL head coach, Todd Reirden is well aware that all eyes are on him. Stepping in to coach the defending Stanley Cup champions is a favorable position in many ways, but it does mean Reirden will be under more scrutiny than most coaches in their first year.

For a first-year coach already facing pressure to succeed, it does not help that the season has already thrown a number of curve balls in terms of the roster.

“Coaching the defending champions is a unique challenge in itself,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview, “But I think for the most part that I haven't had much time to spend on that because I've been busy working on different lineups every night.”

With very few departures in the offseason, Washington was able to bring back the vast majority of its Stanley Cup winning team for the 2018-19 season, something that was considered a major strength of the team heading into the new season.

So far, however, we have seen much more roster attrition from the Caps than consistency.

Now 18 games into the season, Reirden has not had his full roster available to him at any point.

Tom Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season due to suspension, Brooks Orpik is currently on long-term injured reserve, Michal Kempny missed the start of the season because of a concussion and missed Wednesday’s game due to an illness, Travis Boyd has played in only five games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in training camp and Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch on Wednesday with an upper-body injury that required the team dress an emergency backup goalie in Winnipeg. Even John Carlson sat out a game with a lower-body injury.

Things may get worse before they get better given Evgeny Kuznetsov left Wedensday’s game early with an upper-body injury, T.J. Oshie appeared dazed after getting slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey and Holtby is still considered day-to-day.

The rest of the league, however, does not care about the Caps’ suspensions and injuries. Washington does not get extra points in the standings because they have missed so many players and there are no asterisks next to Reirden’s head coaching record.

In the early part of the season, Reirden’s focus has had to shift from bringing the defending champs back to their championship form to simply surviving the team’s current roster attrition while facing questions as to why the team has been so inconsistent all the while.

Reirden has enjoyed the challenge.

“I think it's allowed us to really focus on what gives us the best chance to win, putting guys in different situations, manipulating lineups against other teams and what they have as the strengths in their lineup and how we can combat that,” he said. “So it's been a challenge from that standpoint in terms of moving our lines around and different components. That's made it a little bit more challenging, but that's the part I really enjoy is making those adjustments in house and figuring out how to set up things for success.”

Reirden has certainly not been shy about changing his line combinations or the defensive pairings early in the season as he searched to find the right fit for each spot, each situation. The return of Wilson certainly seems to have made things more clear on the offensive lines, at least in terms of the top-nine.

But while the early suspension and the team’s early injury woes have led to some early struggles and while this certainly is not the start that Reirden would have hoped for in his first season, he is taking a big picture view of it all and stressing the positives.

There’s not much more that this season could throw at the Caps that Reirden and the team has not already had to adjust to.

“It's probably been part of the reason we've had some inconsistency is because of the different changes we've had with different lines and different D-pairs,” Reirden said. “But in the long run, it'll actually help prepare us for adversity that comes to us down the road.”