July 3 (UPI) -- He stared into the eyes of Peyton Manning during some of the most fierce battles between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Mike Vrabel also used to defend against Tom Brady in practice during his days as a Patriots linebacker.
Vrabel, now the coach of the Tennessee Titans, knows what elite quarterback play looks like. Unfortunately for him, he sees it at least twice a season when facing the Indianapolis Colts in the ultra-competitive AFC South.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is one of the preseason favorites to win this year's NFL MVP award. The reigning NFL Comeback Player of the Year is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, while quieting critics about durability concerns.
Luck has an 11-0 career record against the Titans, the best mark in NFL history for a quarterback against a single franchise.
Vrabel told UPI he is most impressed with Luck's ability to calmly stand in the pocket, despite a pack of pass rushers looking to bring him down.
"He's fearless," said Vrabel, who is taking part in the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament with Colts coach Frank Reich from July 12 to 14 in Nevada. "He just stands in the pocket. And his accuracy. It's hard to disguise on him.
"We understand how difficult it is to try and not give him the answers to the test when we play. You have to change looks up on him. He doesn't flinch when guys rush him or guys are around him. Yes, they do a great job blocking for him, but he stands there and goes through his reads and never once wavers with his footwork or delivery."
Luck has 21 touchdowns against nine interceptions and nearly 3,000 passing yards in his 11 starts against the Titans.
While Vrabel was surrounded by great quarterbacks during his playing days, Reich has had the privilege of coaching the best of the best. He was an offensive assistant with the Colts during the Peyton Manning days. Los Angeles Chargers star Philip Rivers led the league in completion percentage in 2013, Reich's first season as quarterback's coach. Reich was promoted to Chargers offensive coordinator the next season.
Reich was the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017, helping groom Carson Wentz from a rookie into a Pro Bowler. He was also there to help backup Nick Foles lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl MVP award.
Reich said those quarterbacks share three traits that help make them "elite."
1. Competitiveness and a will to win
"Just having the presence to be able to make the big play in the clutch and to not flinch," Reich said. "To have no fear, to relish those biggest moments in the biggest games and stick with it and don't try to make too much of it.
"The secret is not rising to the occasion; the secret that these guys show is that they can maintain the high level they play at all the time in the clutch as opposed to just succumbing to the pressure. These guys just maintain that level of excellence."
2. Elite accuracy
"Every quarterback in the NFL is accurate, but we are talking about accuracy at a level with the guys [who] are the elite of the crowd," Reich said. "I think it takes that to be great ... tight coverage, small windows, so you have to have elite accuracy."
3. Accelerated vision
"You have to be able to process information really quickly," Reich said. "All of the elite quarterbacks I've been around, the great ones, they process information so easily and so quickly.
"They can keep things simple."
Vrabel remembers arriving at Patriots training camp one year during his career and seeing an influx of linebackers with starting experience. He knew he had his work cut out as he eyed Hall of Famer Junior Seau among seven other players he would have to compete with for a job.
He called his wife, Jen, for guidance.
"You've got to practice hard and you've got to play better," Jen Vrabel said.
Vrabel said the advice was a reminder that no one should ever be "too comfortable" in their job. That attitude encourages players to improve and show their value to the team every day.
The Titans coach confirmed Marcus Mariota will be the team's starting quarterback in 2019, he also said the presence of backup Ryan Tannehill should push the incumbent gunslinger.
"His job as a backup -- everybody's job as a backup -- is to push the guy in front of him," Vrabel said. "To compete and try to make yourself better and try to make the team better and see how everybody responds."
Mariota was the No. 18 quarterback in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Tannehill registered as the No. 38 passer in the league. By comparison, Luck rated as the NFL's third-best quarterback. Tannehill and Mariota are only signed through this season.
The Titans quarterbacks will be tested early on, as Vrabel's squad will have joint practices with the Patriots before their August preseason matchup.
Reich said the AFC South is getting stronger and stronger. He also said the division has "four good quarterbacks," including Foles, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this off-season. While Reich says he is very close to Foles personally, he wasn't happy to welcome him to the AFC South.
"The job Mike is doing in Tennessee with that team and us coming down to the last game of the season last year. it really was like a playoff game between our two teams," Reich said. "And Jacksonville the year before, having the success they had. The division is definitely playing really tough right now."