WESTFIELD, Ind. – On a star-studded, back-to-the-future Thursday afternoon, one scene was a keeper.
There was Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, side-by-side and several yards behind the action, looking on as Jacoby Brissett ran the Indianapolis Colts offense. They chatted, nodded and chatted some more.
The stories these two could share. The experiences they have shared.
That includes being the first overall pick in the NFL draft – Manning in 1998, Luck in 2012. And it includes having a training camp impeded by injury and everyone wondering how long it would take him to regain his Pro Bowl form after he returned.
Manning dealt with that in 2008, when he missed camp while recovering from an infected bursa sac in his left knee.
Luck? Surely you don’t need to be reminded a strained left calf muscle and ankle issue forced him to miss the final 12 practices at Grand Park Sports Campus and threatens his availability for the Sept. 8 opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
During a visit arranged by coach Frank Reich and owner Jim Irsay, Manning met and shared film sessions with the offensive and defensive staffs. He offered advice and shared “just kind of good football talk.
“I don’t know how much I said that they didn’t already know, but it’s fun for me to kinda get a football fix and talk some ball and tell some stories.’’
Manning also visited with Luck.
“Just encouraged him, wished him luck,’’ he said. “He wants to be out here. I know that’s always the hardest thing when I was not playing was not being out there. You want to be out there participating.
“I know he’s dying to get out there and be back as soon as he can. I’m pulling for him to be healthy for week 1 when it really matters and counts.
“I feel pretty good about him being out there.’’
The Colts remain cautiously optimistic. Reich said this week the team needs to determine its starter for the opener after the third preseason game. That essentially means a starter – Luck or Brissett – needs to be in place for the Aug. 26 practice.
If that’s Luck, he’ll undoubtedly be in catch-up mode. He’s practiced exactly three times, all in a limited capacity, since the Colts’ 31-13 second-round playoff loss at Kansas City Jan. 12.
Manning can relate. The bursa issue kept him out of the 2008 camp, and resulted in a slower-than-normal start to the season.
The Colts opened 3-4, in large part because Manning still was looking to regain his form. In the first seven games, he completed 61.1 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Over the final nine games – all wins – he completed 72.1 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
It’s worth noting Manning would win the third of his NFL-record five MVP awards that season.
“There was a little catch-up for me, just kind of physically getting out there,’’ he conceded. “But it doesn’t take quite as long as maybe you think it’s going to take once you get out there and you kinda get going.’’
Injuries, Manning added, are “just part of it.’’
Neck issues forced him to miss the 2011 season and led to the Colts releasing him the next offseason.
Now, the focus is on Luck.
“Everybody deals with it,’’ Manning said. “I’ve got to believe Andrew feels like I felt. He wishes it wasn’t as much of an ordeal and speculation as there is.
“But that comes with the territory with being the quarterback, with being the first overall pick. That’s just part of the deal. He’s handling it well and like I said, hope for a positive result real soon.’’
While fans naturally gravitated to Manning after practice ended, he was one of more than a dozen former players, coaches and front-office types on hand Thursday.
The list of dignitaries included two members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Bill Polian and Tony Dungy.
Manning was Polian’s first pick in ’98, and was the catalyst for Dungy’s decorated seven-year stint as head coach that included two trips to the Super Bowl and one world championship.
Each weighed in on the Luck situation.
“It’s always tough and you want everything to be perfect,’’ Dungy said, “but the one thing you learn in this game is it isn’t perfect. You find a way to work through it and make things happen. Everybody’s got to work a little harder. I know Andrew’s doing everything he can to get back . . . he’s going to be back and he’s going to be fine at some point.’’
He endorsed the manner with which Reich is dealing with the uncertainty regarding Luck.
“You do everything you can to support Andrew to get him ready and you let the team know, ‘We’re looking forward to Andrew being back. But if he’s not back, we still have to win games. And we still can win games,’’’ Dungy said. he’s going to be fine at some point.’’
Polian isn’t overly concerned with Luck’s extended absence in camp.
“He’s seen more than enough to not need this work necessarily,’’ he said.
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