Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden have come a long way in a year.
The two bright-eyed rookies who took turns staring at Hall of Fame busts during last summer’s rookie symposium are now established starters and franchise cornerstones.
So when they meet again Saturday night, Luck and Weeden will be following a different preseason script — playing at least one half and likely into the third quarter as they try to fine-tune their offenses before the scores and games start counting.
“This is the dress rehearsal, the most extended time, a chance to really go out there and hopefully put some good stuff on tape and if it’s not all good, a chance to fix it before the opener,” Luck said. “So there’s a lot of focus going into this game.”
Not just for the starting quarterbacks in Indianapolis and Cleveland, either.
The Colts (1-1), like most NFL teams, spent this week simulating a regular-season schedule of team meetings, practice and mapping out game plans.
Even longtime veterans such as Robert Mathis and Cory Redding understand this is the one preseason game that matters most.
While nobody should expect to see a flurry of trick plays or complex blitz packages, most starters will stay on the field longer and those on the cut line will get one last chance to impress coaches before the cut down to 75.
For Luck and Weeden, there are other things to work on.
Both are still getting accustomed to new offenses and new offensive coordinators.
Weeden, who had to win a quarterback competition for the second straight year, has led Cleveland (2-0) on six scoring drives in two games and will be out to prove that new coach Rob Chudzinski made the right call after selecting him as the starter Tuesday.
“I’ve worked hard. I’m excited about what we have going on and our progress,” Weeden said. “Now we just got to keep it rolling. We got to keep going. I feel comfortable. I’m excited. I love this system.”
Luck has never had to contend with that sort of challenge.
He became the incumbent the instant Indy parted ways with Peyton Manning and decided to take Luck with the No. 1 overall draft pick.
But, like Weeden, he’s been far from perfect. Luck came into training camp with three primary goals: Improving his completion percentage, reducing the number of interceptions and winning more games.
But a rash of injuries has made it tough to show the improvement.
Indy is keeping its top two tight ends — Dwayne Allen (right foot) and Coby Fleener (right knee) — on the sideline Saturday. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (right foot) will miss his third straight game, too, and now starting guard Mike McGlynn will sit out with a bruised knee.
“I think we’ll make some adjustments to really accommodate some of the looks that we expect from Cleveland,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “But it’s still our goal to go out and be efficient as an offense.”
Weeden also has a tough task after losing two key running backs with injuries — Dion Lewis (broken leg) and Montario Hardesty (knee surgery) — and working with a receiving group that is still trying to prove itself.
Running back Trent Richardson made his preseason debut last week, and Brandon Jackson, who is trying to win the job as Richardson’s backup, is likely to get extensive playing time against the Colts.
Cleveland also will be without first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo, who is recovering from a bruised lung.
Those aren’t concerns for the 30-year-old Weeden, who remains confident he can get the job done.
“I wasn’t worried about my end of the stick,” he said. “I knew I was going to do what it took for me to get better in the offseason to do the things that I needed to do. I wasn’t concerned about me. It was just proving to those guys (coaches and teammates) that that hard work did pay off.”
Luck owns one win over Weeden, having beaten the Browns 17-13 last October.
And while winning is always a priority for Luck, the Colts’ franchise quarterback now understands the most important facet of Saturday night’s game is getting the offense in sync in its last real tuneup before the Sept. 8 season opener against Oakland.
“We’ve been game-planning almost to the point as if it was a regular season game,” Luck said. “It’s a chance to play at home again for the last time before the home opener is big, so definitely, definitely echo that same sentiment.”