By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Andrew Luck's off-season assignment, which he choose to accept, was to work on his drop and his production in the red zone. Maybe he can work on his tennis game next.
Stanford's redshirt sophomore quarterback earned the starting job over veteran Tavita Pritchard last year. With Pritchard turned volunteer graduate assistant, and Heismann Trophy runnerup Toby Gerhart now in the NFL, Luck is squarely in the limelight as the Cardinal prepares for a season bursting with potential, confidence and energy.
"I am a lot more confident," Luck said Wednesday. "Playing a year is a whole world of practice that you can't simulate."
That extra confidence became evident Wednesday as Luck addressed the media for the first time in training camp. He came across as a young man full of vigor, as opposed to the shy, slightly overwhelmed kid who made his media debut last year.
Of course, he's on the national scene these days and joined Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh in New York when the Pac-10 made a trip across country for a media day.
"The best part is to get the Stanford name out there," Luck said. "I try not to pay too much attention. If and when I get a big head I'm sure my teammates will help remind me otherwise."
To help satisfy his assignments, Luck attended camps like that run by the Manning family, three former and present NFL quarterbacks, two of whom played in the Super Bowl.
"It was a great experience," said Luck, who threw for 2,575 yards and 13 touchdowns and earned freshman All-American honors last year. "Those guys are great teachers as well as great people. They really helped me out."
Luck, who with wide receiver-kickoff return specialist Chris Owusu, was named to the 30-player preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year Award, has been paying attention to all his coaches as he strives to improve every aspect of his game.
His red zone production was a particular emphasis.
"You have to see the defense and make decisions quicker, maybe before you drop all the way back," he said. "It's a constricted field and if you make a bad decision you pay for it."
Luck, whether he likes it or not, is the focus of the Stanford offense until a running back or two can step forward. Gerhart drew the lion's share of attention last year, and that helped Luck, who was able to roam relatively unscathed last year. Stanford allowed a mere seven sacks last season and Luck threw a mere four interceptions.
Teams may look to tee off on Luck a little more this season without the dangerous Gerhart around to divide the defensive focus.
After all, Luck was Stanford's second-leading rusher with a net gain of 354 yards. Potential running backs Stepfan Taylor, Jeremy Stewart (limited to five games due to injury) and Tyler Gaffney combined for 497 yards and four touchdowns.
"I love Toby to death but we have to move on without him," Luck said. "We've got our strengths."
Luck's running ability being among them. At Stratford High in Houston, Luck threw for 7,139 career yards and 53 touchdowns. He also rushed for 2,085 yards.
"Coach (Jim) Harbaugh has stressed that the quarterback, at some point, will have to pick up a first down or save a second down with his legs," Luck said.
Luck will also have some family at Stanford. His younger sister Mary Ellen Luck is a freshman on the Stanford women's volleyball team and Luck can attest to her athleticism.
"I've played a little sand volleyball but she can catch and throw a football," Luck said. "There was a time when we set a mini-tennis court in our living room when we were living in Germany. She beat me and I got really mad."
Luck claims that's the only time he was beaten by his sister in an athletic competition. But he's happy she made the decision to attend Stanford.
"She seems to really enjoy it," he said. "I'm sure my parents are happy she has an older brother around to watch out for her."
Notes: Senior Ryan Whalen was named to the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the top receiver in college football. Whalen has led Stanford in receiving each of the last two seasons. As a junior, he caught 57 passes for 926 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 16.2 yards per catch and 71.2 receiving yards per game. He enters his final campaign with 99 career receptions for 1,444 yards and five touchdowns . . . With offensive lineman Andrew Phillips out for an undetermined amount of time because of family matters, Kevin Danser filled in at left guard . . . Luck is one of five sophomores on the 30-member watch list for the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award. He led the Pac-10 in passing efficency last year and is one of four Pac-10 signal callers on the list, joining Arizona's Nick Foles, Washington's Jake Locker and USC's Matt Barkley.