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Associated Press
Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck will be challenged right away as he faces the Bears today.

Challenged from the start

Luck to take on formidable defense as Colts, Bears kick off new season

– Welcome to the NFL, Andrew Luck. Get ready to meet a few Monsters.

The No. 1 pick in the draft and heir to Peyton Manning, Luck will face a huge challenge right from the start, when the Colts open the season at the Bears today.

He’ll be up against a team with high expectations after reuniting quarterback Jay Cutler with Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall. Luck will face a defense with no shortage of Pro Bowl players. So how does a date with Julius Peppers sound?

Well, Luck insisted he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“What a great way to kick things off, with a great challenge,” Luck said. “It will be tough sledding to get yards, to get points. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Not since you-know-who debuted in 1998 has there been so much anticipation about a rookie quarterback. Many scouts believe Luck is the most NFL-ready QB since Manning. It’s up to him to back that up and prove the Colts were right to make the change behind center.

Now, Manning’s in Denver, and Luck’s at the controls.

The former Stanford star isn’t the only new face after a 2-14 season. The father-son management tandem of Bill and Chris Polian is out, a new general manager (Ryan Grigson) in their place, and a new coach (Chuck Pagano for Jim Caldwell) on the sideline. Luck’s just the one standing in the spotlight at the moment.

“Certainly we know there’s going to be some mistakes made,” Pagano said. “He’d be the first one to tell you that. He holds himself to a high standard, as well as his teammates and so forth. We expect him to come in and play well.”

On the surface, he’s facing a tough task.

Sure, the Bears had trouble getting to the quarterback last season and ranked 28th against the pass, but he still is staring at a defense led by Peppers, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, who practiced last week and appeared ready for the opener after being sidelined most of the preseason by a left knee injury.

“We’ve seen what he’s capable of doing,” cornerback Tim Jennings said.

And Bears QB Jay Cutler envisions big things for Luck.

“He’s going to be successful,” Cutler said. “There’s too many things going his way. He works hard. He’s in an organization that’s going to build around him. They’ve got the blueprint already with Peyton. So they’re going to do everything possible to make him successful.”

The Bears, meanwhile, believe they’re in position to succeed after a busy offseason.

Phil Emery replaced fired general manager Jerry Angelo after an 8-8 finish and immediately went to work retooling the roster, adding depth in several areas to go with that huge trade for Marshall from Miami.

The blockbuster deal gave Cutler a go-to target for the first time in Chicago and reunited him with his old partner in Denver. With Marshall leading a receiving group that includes rookie Alshon Jeffery along with veterans Earl Bennett and Devin Hester – not to mention Matt Forte and newcomer Michael Bush carrying the ball – the Bears believe they could have an explosive offense.

“We’ve got some guys that can play football on the outside,” Emery said. “There’s no doubt about that. It’s going to hopefully make my job easier; being able to get them the ball, let them work. Up front, I think the guys know that there’s some pressure on them because Matt Forte can run if we give him holes. If I get the guys the ball on the outside and we hold up enough time we can make some good plays. So it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Even so, the Bears still have some concerns.

There’s the offensive line. There are issues in the secondary, and age could also be a factor, with Urlacher, Peppers, Briggs and Charles Tillman all in their 30s.