WESTFIELD, Ind. – The smile is impossible to miss, and the result of knowing milestones have been faced and cleared over the past 20 months. He’s noticeably upbeat and energetic, and admittedly more appreciative of being able to once again play a kid’s game.
Thursday evening in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, Andrew Luck returns to the playing field for the first time in 585 days. Five hundred. Eighty. Five.
“Yeah, it’s been awhile. Long time,’’ Luck admitted Tuesday morning. “I’ll be excited, I know I will.
“I’m sure I’ll be very nervous as well.’’
His overriding objective: just play quarterback. Finally.
“I’d like to go out there and throw a football and hand it off and take a snap and stick to some good fundamentals and some good technique and not do anything crazy,’’ he said.
Luck last stepped on the field Jan. 1, 2017 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Shortly thereafter, he underwent surgery on his right shoulder – his business shoulder – to repair a torn labrum. His initial rehab stalled in mid-October, and at some point clouds of doubt formed.
“There were one or two moments when I wondered if, like ‘Am I ever going to be able to do this again? Are we going to do this again?’’’ Luck said. “Certainly this isn’t what I’ve been working for the whole time, but in the same vein it is the next step in this journey and one that sort of is just about (being) the next one.
“That’s real exciting, and it’s fun.’’
As he prepares for his first preseason game of 2018, #Colts QB Andrew Luck says there were “one or two moments he wondered ‘if’” in regards to his return. 12 said he’s “nervous” and “excited” for his return to game action Thursday #ColtsCamp pic.twitter.com/s0CuLTJZun
— Larra Overton (@LarraOverton) August 7, 2018
The plan for Luck’s return involves him playing no more than a quarter, although his anticipated workload probably will more dependent on plays and series.
“There’s a range of plays and situations that you want to hit and a rhythm you want to hit,’’ Frank Reich said. “We’ll kind of stay fluid.’’
In previous years – save last summer when he wasn’t in the mix – Luck’s exposure in the first preseason game has varied: 24 plays as rookie versus the Rams in 2012, 10 in ’13 against Buffalo, 12 in ’14 against the New York Jets and 18 in ’15 against Philadelphia. The team held him out of the ’16 preseason opener at Buffalo, then Luck handled 19 snaps in week 2 against Baltimore.
However it shakes out, the objective remains the same. Command the offense. Be efficient. Get into a flow. And, oh yes, move the football and score some points.
“For Andrew, just getting in that rhythm, feeling that juice again, getting amped and all of the adrenalin that comes and controlling that on game day,’’ Reich said.
“One good play at a time, efficiency,’’ he said. “Football is such a situational game so you don’t have to force that in games. It will present itself and I think it’s always fun to see how you handle those in preseason . . . something inevitably will come up.
“Yeah, being efficient, having one good play at a time, getting to go out there with some old buddies, some new buddies and have some fun.’’
Three-fifths of his starting offensive line were added in the offseason: rookie left guard Quenton Nelson, right guard Matt Slauson and right tackle Austin Howard. He’s had to work on his timing with tight end Eric Ebron and wideout Ryan Grant, both offseason free-agent acquisitions. He’s yet to be in a game situation with three of his running backs: Marlon Mack and rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.
Luck’s camp progression has unfolded seamlessly. His accuracy and velocity seemingly have improved each day, and his right shoulder has endured the stress. Tuesday, he threw for a third straight day for the first time in camp. His right arm/shoulder felt stronger Tuesday than it did last week, and two weeks ago.
“I just feel better,’’ he said. “I feel more fit. I feel like my arm has more in it, a little more in it, a little more in it.
“Certainly feeling more comfortable in the offense. I’m starting to feel how Eric Ebron runs routes and how Ryan Grant runs routes and some of those new guys run routes. There’s been a lot, a lot of positive things.’’
That includes off-the-field issues. Throughout the 20-month rehab process, Luck has developed a better appreciation of playing football at the highest level – that happens when it’s taken away from you – and grown as an individual.
“I do feel I’m a little more patient with myself,’’ he said, “which in turn has made me a little more patient with others, which has been really positive for my relationship with my girlfriend.
“I probably struggle hiding how I feel at times, whether that’s a positive or a negative thing. I’m a little happier with myself, that’s the crux of the matter. That allows me to really enjoy football. It does feel a bit more like a game to me instead of a job or a profession. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling.’’
Luck admits we’ve seen a lighter side to him this #ColtsCamp. Says he’s enjoying football more now and “it feels more like a game” again and not like a job. Admits that he often wears his heart on his sleeve and is happier with himself now than in the past #Colts pic.twitter.com/7aymsBMMvE
— Larra Overton (@LarraOverton) August 7, 2018
All that remains is for Luck to trot onto the CenturyLink Field Thursday evening with his offensive teammates, put his long rehab behind him and play quarterback.
That includes working in a chaotic environment and, at some point, getting hit.
“I think part of playing the game is being able to go through a hurdle like getting hit (or) something happens, something doesn’t go right and surviving, in a sense, and being able to check that box in your mind,’’ Luck said.
Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said the game plan doesn’t include making certain Luck experiences that first hit, “but if it happens, we are going to try to keep it where it’s not a big one. But yeah, (getting that first hit) would help.
“Just execute the game plan, execute the plays that we are trying to run. Get the ball out of his hands and make the right read. Get a little pressure and be able to see him when it’s live to have a little pressure and throw the ball, make the right run checks, make the right motion to the receiver when he needs to and just really handle the offense in all phases.’’
At long last.