Michael Conroy
September 14, 2016

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Andrew Luck didn't need to see the film of Cam Newton getting clobbered to realize Denver's defense can put a serious hurt on the quarterback.

Luck led the Colts to a big win over the Broncos last year but ended up in the hospital afterward with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle that sidelined him for the final two months of the season.

Lesson learned.

After playing in just seven games in 2015 and then signing a megadeal this summer that includes a record $87 million in guarantees, Luck is more cognizant of protecting both his body and team owner Jim Irsay's investment in him.

''As a quarterback you have an obligation to be on the field,'' Luck said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters in Denver, where the Colts (0-1) play this weekend. ''That involves taking care of your body. Situationally, there are times when I need to slide or throw the ball away and I've been working on that.''

There's a balance he's trying to find so he doesn't lose any of what's made him the quarterback he is.

''You're going to go out there and take a hit if the game's on the line or in (certain) other situations,'' Luck said. ''But I think in every year I'm trying to approach the game in a better, more efficient way. So, I guess this is somewhat of a natural progression, as well.''

Luck was only sacked once but hit 11 times by the Broncos last year. His worst hit came when he was sandwiched by defensive end Vance Walker and linebacker Danny Trevathan, but he finished up and led the Colts to a 27-24 win in Indianapolis.

The Broncos lost Trevathan to free agency and Walker was penciled in as Malik Jackson's replacement until he blew out a knee in training camp.

That doesn't mean the Broncos are any less of a hazard to Luck's health.

''A lot of other guys got big hits on him, too,'' cornerback Chris Harris said. ''That wasn't the only hit. Everybody got big hits on him. Like I said, Luck put his body on the line against us. Just like Cam Newton did last week. Quarterbacks know if they want to beat us, they've got to go all-out.''

Like Newton, Luck doesn't avoid hits like say, the elusive Russell Wilson.

''No, Andrew Luck doesn't slide too much,'' Harris said. ''Those guys try to run you over. So, you've got to hit them like running backs.''

That's what Denver's defense did to Newton last week, hammering him 17 times, including four helmet-to-helmet hits, two of which resulted in fines for linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety Darian Stewart.

Their hits on Newton, along with those of Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and cornerback Bradley Roby, sparked a debate about player safety, the viability of read-option QBs in this league and whether Denver's defense had crossed the line.

Luck is up next and, like the league's disciplinarians, he's been studying the Panthers-Broncos game film all week.

''Yeah, tough, physical, good, really good players all around the field,'' Luck said. ''Obviously, they're a winning group. They know how to win. Well-coached. Coach (Wade) Phillips does a heck of a job, everywhere he's been. Certainly great pass rushers, really good cover guys. Really, there's no weakness on the defense.''

One adjective that many are using to describe Denver's defense is dirty.

Not Luck.

''I wouldn't necessarily agree with that,'' he said. ''They play hard, they're well-coached and obviously everybody's entitled to their own opinion. They do a good job. They really do.''

Colts coach Chuck Pagano thinks so, too.

''They're an athletic, physical, tough, attacking, swarming defense,'' Pagano said. ''They've got talent front to back. The edge pressure that you get, the way that they run to the football, the linebackers are sideline to sideline and the secondary is as good a unit as there is in the National Football League. They're a physical, physical unit.''

Notes: WR Demaryius Thomas (left hip) returned to practice and coach Gary Kubiak reiterated his belief that he'll play Sunday. WR Bennie Fowler (right elbow) was held out again.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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