INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The next step toward normalcy – toward a return to relevancy by the Indianapolis Colts – was taken under Tuesday afternoon’s threatening skies.
On the first of three mandatory minicamp practices, the most indispensible Colt – that would be Andrew Luck, the $140 million quarterback who last delivered a pass in a practice setting eight months ago – threw a football in front of a curious media.
“Excited to see Andrew playing football,’’ owner Jim Irsay said. “It’s a great day in Colts Nation, that’s for sure.’’
More than that, a better day’s ahead.
Irsay steadfastly believes Luck will be under center when the Colts open the season Sept. 9 at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Luck agreed with his boss.
“Absolutely,’’ he said.
Knock on wood, a reporter asked?
“No knock on wood,’’ Luck replied. “I’ll be playing. I believe it in my bones.’’
Tuesday marked the next step, a significant one, in Luck’s rehab from January 2017 surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He last played in a game Jan. 1, 2017, a 24-20 win over Jacksonville secured when Luck hit Jack Doyle with a 1-yard touchdown with 9 seconds to play.
He last threw a football in a practice setting in mid-October only to experience soreness and swelling that sent him to the injured reserve list Nov. 2, ending his sixth NFL season.
Luck’s Tuesday workload in the open practice setting consisted of approximately 20 passes, none of which appeared to travel further than 30 yards. He initially lobbed passes to former go-to receiver and volunteer coach Reggie Wayne, then showed his mobility by faking a handoff to his right, pivoting, rolling back to his left, squaring up and delivering a semi-crisp pass to the left flats.
Andrew Luck is throwing #Colts pic.twitter.com/kaJME3ar39
— Dave Griffiths (@DaveG_Sports) June 12, 2018
“I just believe I’m on the right path,’’ Luck said. “I believe I’m going to be absolutely fine. I believe I’m going to be better than I was. I really do.
“A better QB for this team, a better teammate.’’
Rehab 2.0 commenced after the Colts shut down Luck’s initial rehab. It included extended work with a personal trainer in the Netherlands, then specialized work on the West Coast with throwing gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux.
Luck’s regimen included throwing weighted balls, and at some point – perhaps in March – progressed to throwing a small football. Tuesday, he was using a Wilson Tds 1205, a football used at the high school level that’s a tad lighter and smaller than an NFL football.
The smaller ball, Luck said, puts “less stress on the arm.’’
In the coming days, he’ll shelve the small ball and once again grip ‘n rip “The Duke’’ on a daily basis.
“I’m sort of bridging right now,’’ Luck added.
For the sake of accuracy, he already has re-introduced himself to “The Duke.’’
A few weeks ago, temptation got the better of Luck and he decided to pick up an NFL football and give it a test spin.
“It felt great,’’ he said. “It was a little mental block and I had to do it. By myself.’’
Well, not exactly. Luck dialed up coach Frank Reich, who was relaxing at home.
“Had coach Reich come out on a day not many people were here. I made him swear to me that he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone else about it,’’ Luck said with a grin. “It was my story to tell.’’
Reich kept his word. When asked in each of the last three weeks, he denied Luck had thrown a regulation football.
“I confess; it was really hard for me to say that,’’ Reich said. “There was one day and nobody was around here. I was sitting at home and he said he was going to work out. I came in, he worked out.
“He did his normal routine and the only thing that was different at the end was there was a ball there and he said ‘What do you think? Let’s pick this up and throw this around a little bit.’ That was it. We were just playing catch.’’
It’s been a painstaking, oft-times secretive process that delivered Luck to throwing in front of an audience Tuesday. Unlike his first comeback attempt that ended with him being placed on IR last November, he has stuck to the script and not skipped or accelerated his way through various steps.
Luck has learned from prior mistakes. When experiencing pain while throwing in October, he basically ignored it and continued to throw.
That pain has been replaced by a soreness that comes with throwing after not throwing for such an extended time.
“Very different soreness,’’ Luck said of then and now. “I had pain last year. Then I wasn’t being honest to myself about it. I was trying to get through the pain, per say.
“There’s none of that right now. That pain is gone and it’s going to stay that way.’’
One indicator of how the second rehab has been more effective than the first is Luck is experiencing fewer “dips’’ after throwing.
“My dips after training are much less,’’ he said. “My body doesn’t revolt, in a sense, to new things. The new things I do ask of it are so incremental and planned out very, very well so it allows myself to adapt to it.
“I trust myself. I push myself.’’
Everyone associated with Luck’s latest comeback believes it will culminate with him being ready for the start of training camp in late July. That includes Luck himself.
“I’ve said this before: My goal is to be ready for training camp,’’ he said. “And that doesn’t mean 100 balls a day, six days in a row. There’s going to be a plan. Frank and I have had some really, really good conversations and will continue to have great conversations.
“My goal is to be able to throw as much as I need to in a game week.’’
The Colts’ regular-season schedule will differ from prior seasons. Monday will be a day off, probably followed by a light practice Tuesday.
Luck plans on throwing “Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at practice and on Sunday, let it loose, no count, nothing,’’ he said. “You gotta go and let it go.
“That’s what I’m preparing for. That’s why right now I’m throwing Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays to mimic a three-day practice week and a practice as Sunday game day.’’
That regimen, now and looking ahead, will include Luck “missing a practice here and there that’s planned.
“There’s a plan (and) I feel very good about the plan.’’
So does Reich, who has closely monitored every step of Luck’s routine. While the media only saw Luck’s light throwing Tuesday, Reich has seen more serious throwing from his QB.
“There have been some throws where I would say, relatively speaking, yes, I have seen (harder) throws,’’ he said. “It’s fun now because you get to get a good look at those in back-to-back workouts and see how they look and compare to each other and the consistency of it.
“That’s what it’s really about, about consistently repeating it over and over.’’
And, for the franchise, it’s about getting its most important player back on the field. The Colts are 46-30 with Luck under center, including three playoff appearances, and 10-16 without him. They endured a 4-12 record last season with Luck looking on for its entirety.
“When you have that guy on the field, everyone knows you’ve got a chance and the sky’s the limit,’’ Irsay said. “It’s worth the price of admission and more when you’ve got a guy like that on the field and is healthy.’’