Heading into Thursday night's preseason opener with the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts third-year quarterback Andrew Luck has a few words of advice for the rookies trying to make the team's 2014 regular-season roster.
Relax. Have fun. It's football.
"Any time there's a game, there's something a little extra going on," Luck is quick to admit. "You feel a good energy, especially with some of the younger guys. It will be their first time playing in an NFL game. It's special."
It hasn't been all that long since the former No. 1 draft pick played in his first preseason game in 2012. He knows how all the first-year players, draftees and undrafted free agents are feeling about finally having the opportunity to play in an actual professional game.
"It's a bunch of good guys that just want to play football. Offensively and defensively," he pointed out. "It's fun to be around because you know that you're going to rely on a lot of them, a lot of those guys, during the season."
Luck expects a few members, if not all, of this year's rookie class to be a bit nervous their first time out in a real game situation.
"I'll just tell them to have fun. I think the veterans have done a good job of grooming each position group, make sure the young guys are ready. You realize that it's a special thing to be able to pull a horseshoe on your helmet and represent your family, the team, the city of Indianapolis. Just to go out and have fun and play hard," he said.
"That's one thing that Coach (Chuck) Pagano talks about. And you know guys are going to make mistakes and things are going to happen. But what you should not worry about is effort and hustle and desire. And I don't see that being an issue at all. Again, it's a special thing to be in your first NFL game, pre-season or not."
Even a grizzled young veteran like Luck is ready to break away from the training camp scenario and face somebody other than his teammates.
"It's a nice break. You get tired of seeing (defensive end) Cory Redding's 7-foot frame every day," he joked. "Sticking his big paws out. It's a good break, but it's still training camp.
"Coach Pagano creates a good energy around practice. I think that everybody realizes how fortunate you are to be an NFL player, to be practicing and not to take it for granted. You see guys fighting for spots and busting their butts. That's good pressure that put on everybody to perform at a certain level."
Pagano joked recently that only one position in the Indianapolis starting lineup is written in pen at the moment, referring to quarterback with Luck. He said every other position is written in pencil, although several other positions appear to be relatively safe as well.
"There's obviously a little bit of light at the end of the (training camp) tunnel with the preseason game coming up on Thursday," Pagano said.
"They're excited about getting out on the field and competing against another team and see exactly where they are as individuals, as a unit and as a team. Where we're at offensively, defensively and special-teams wise, it'll be a good barometer for all of us."
The Colts' coaching staff isn't sure how much playing time many of the team's veterans will see against the Jets on Thursday night.
Pagano would like to get some extra work for the team's young interior offensive line, which consists of two second-year players -- center Khaled Hlolmes and right guard Hugh Thornton -- and rookie left guard Jack Mewhort.
"They do have to play. I think we know, obviously, a little more about our tackles then we do the interior," Pagano said. "So it would probably be a fair statement to say that those guys will probably get a little bit more time than the outside guys."
Pagano was asked recently how important it is to have a veteran backup quarterback, like the Colts do with former NFL starter Matt Hasselbeck.
"I wish you wouldn't ask me that, to be honest," he joked. "It's a great luxury. Matt's obviously taken a team to a Super Bowl. He's got a ton of snaps under his belt, a ton of confidence. He's a great leader. So having a guy like that as your backup, we certainly know that we can still, if we've got to use him, we can still go win football games with Matt Hasselbeck."