WESTFIELD, Ind. – Chris Ballard’s update on an idled, injured Andrew Luck was revealing, but fell short of answering the overriding question.
And that would be: Is the $140 million quarterback’s availability for the Indianapolis Colts’ Sept. 8 opener against the Los Angeles Chargers in jeopardy?
“We’re three-and-a-half weeks away from the regular season, so I’m not ready to say that. No,’’ Ballard said during a Tuesday evening conference call.
Luck has been dealing with a strained left calf, and that has turned into an ankle issue, according to Ballard.
The team believes it finally has determined the exact nature of Luck’s lingering issue and accompanying pain, and how best to deal with it. It isn’t related to the os trigonum, a small bone in the back of Luck’s ankle.
Luck visited another specialist Monday and a magnetic resonance imaging “led us to the area of the front of the ankle that needs to be addressed. It’s high ankle-ish,’’ Ballard said. “The calf has become a high ankle issue.’’
Luck, he added, has experienced problems with his left ankle during his career and the strained calf injury “exacerbated’’ a cumulative effect with the ankle.
Continued, but altered rehab, is the plan. Surgery is not.
Luck missed the entirety of the Colts’ on-field offseason work because of the strained calf and pain in his ankle. The plan going into training camp at Grand Park Sports Campus involved easing him into practice.
“Get to camp and we say, ‘OK, we’re going to work him back in slowly and see where we go,’’ Ballard said. “On day 3, he comes up and says, ‘Look, I’m still having pain. My calf in that same area is still having pain.’
“That’s why we backed off, (to) get it calmed down.’’
Luck has not practiced with the team during training camp since doing so on a limited basis July 28, and will miss the final 12. He won’t participate in the Colts’ joint practices with the Cleveland Browns Wednesday and Thursday and almost certainly won’t play in any of the three preseason games.
“As of right now,’’ Ballard said, “I’m telling you most likely he doesn’t play in the preseason.’’
But again, Luck’s availability for the regular season is foremost in everyone’s mind. It hasn’t been that long ago the Colts were forced to go through a season without him because of his right shoulder issues. Remember 2017? Remember 4-12?
“This is not 2017,’’ Ballard insisted. “I’ve thought about this a lot because when I first came in the door one of the things we talked about was building a team, and it wasn’t going to be about one guy.
“Look, I understand the importance of Andrew Luck. You kidding me? This guy’s one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. But we’ve got another quarterback we like in Jacoby Brissett. To me, that’s part of building a team. You’ve got to be able to handle it when things don’t go the way you planned them out to be.’’
The Colts have been viewed as one of the AFC’s best teams and a serious Super Bowl contender, but that was with Luck under center.
When Luck’s rehab from surgery on his right shoulder stalled, Ballard acquired Brissett in a trade with New England eight days before the opener. He started the final 15 games and played reasonably well. He was 4-11 as a starter and passed for 3,098 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions despite being sacked an NFL-high 52 times.
“I have confidence in our team and I have confidence in the team that we’re going to put out there versus the Chargers,’’ Ballard said. “We’re young, but we’ve got a good football team.
“We like Jacoby Brissett also. And I trust Andrew. I know he’s going to do everything in his power to get back. When he does, he does.’’
Luck has been strenuously working away from his teammates, including throwing under the direction of Tom House. The issue, though, is actually playing the position at the proper level. And that’s being restricted by the lingering pain.
“The issue right now is the side-to-side stuff, kind of rolling of the ankle,’’ Ballard said. “Anything back-and-forth, he’s pretty good. Standing there throwing, he’s good.
“It’s the moving in the pocket, those are the kind of things we’ve got to get him better at.’’
Ballard paused, then continued.
“This guy works,’’ he said. “He freakin’ works.’’
Ballard said he wouldn’t hesitate to play Luck if he was less than 100 percent.
“If he can function, yes,’’ he said. “And (if) his pain is under control and he can protect himself and play good, yes.’’
However, Ballard added, “We won’t as an organization put any player out there that can’t perform at a high level. I’m just not. I’m not going to put players at risk. If we feel comfortable – Frank (Reich) and I and our staff – that he can play, then he’ll play.’’
Until then, the Colts will adjust as needed.
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