INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jim Irsay’s message to the Indianapolis Colts’ fan base was equal parts patience and optimism.
The patience involves the long-lens view of a franchise now being led by general manager Chris Ballard. The Colts, Irsay insisted, are in a three-year rebuilding mode after missing the playoffs for three straight years for the first time in nearly a quarter century.
The optimism? That involves the health of Andrew Luck.
The team’s most indispensable player missed all of last season and remains in rehab mode after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in January 2017. The expectation is for Luck, who’s been working out on the West Coast with a pair of throwing specialists, to be on hand April 9 when the Colts open their offseason conditioning program.
Irsay did nothing to suppress those expectations Monday when he met with local reporters covering the owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.
“All indicators are (the) healing is going really well and we feel really optimistic that he’s turned the corner and has a full decade ahead of him of excellence,’’ Irsay said. “That’s a long period of time.’’
Luck, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, turns 29 in September. For perspective, consider New England’s Tom Brady is 40 and New Orleans’ Drew Brees is 39.
At the recent NFL Scouting Combine, Ballard and coach Frank Reich shared their boss’ optimism.
“Do I have any doubt that he’s going to be ready? No, I don’t,’’ Ballard offered.
Added Reich: “I’m anticipating that he’s going to be ready to go. Again, we’ll have to determine what level that will mean. There’s no way to predict that. I’m thinking optimistically.’’
The overriding question has been how involved Luck will be once on-field drills begin in mid- and late-April. At the Combine, Ballard revealed Luck’s rehab regimen had yet to include throwing a football. The Colts’ first voluntary minicamp is April 24-25.
Irsay made it clear he expects his $140 million QB to be very active during the team’s offseason work.
“I expect him to throw quite a bit,’’ he said. “I expect him to channel his Brett Favre, if you will, and just say ‘The hell with it . . . let’s go play football, let’s go rock and roll.’
“There’s never been anything unusually ominous or surprising or behind the scenes that’s taken us by surprise. There really hasn’t been. The throwing shoulder, there’s a lot going on there. It’s a complicated mechanism. At this level, with the type of torque that’s put out, you just want to make sure you bring him along the right way.’’
As much as Ballard has preached an it-takes-53-players approach, Luck’s impact on the Colts’ success can’t be overstated. With him under center, the team is 43-27 in the regular season. Without him, the record plummets to 10-16.
“We all know the importance of Andrew and the health of the shoulder coming around,’’ Irsay said. “Can we get it done if that doesn’t happen, if it’s an extended period still where we’re working our way through it still taking longer than we thought? Sure we can.’’
Irsay cautioned his fan base the return to prominence won’t occur overnight.
“We really feel within a three-year window we have an opportunity to build this franchise, to fix some of the areas that need to be fixed,’’ he said.