WESTFIELD, Ind. – He’s been a starting quarterback in 76 NFL games, including an AFC Championship game, and he is a three-time Pro Bowler. That was all after a 38-game career at Stanford played at a level worthy of being a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist.
Yet nerves followed Andrew Luck onto the practice field Thursday. It was his first time in full-team drills since the final week of December 2016.
“I had jitters like before a game for that first practice, which was a neat feeling,’’ he said Sunday morning. “I hadn’t felt that way in a long time, so that was really cool.’’
It was the next step in Luck’s progression from that January 2017 surgery on his right shoulder that shook his world and that of the entire Indianapolis Colts organization.
More to the point, it was the next hurdle that had to be cleared.
Luck has meticulously stuck to a graduated schedule aimed at not just returning him to the starting lineup, but making as certain as possible he returns better than ever. In each of his first two days of work, he unleashed a judicious 19 passes in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills. Saturday, he went through the non-throwing portion of Saturday’s session before heading indoors for more individual attention.
He was back to his full-go status Sunday evening, and enjoyed his best practice. Luck completed 19-of-22 passes, including 12-of-14 in team drills. Twice, he and T.Y. Hilton, his long-time sidekick, hooked up: once on a crossing pattern and another time on a corner route.
As much progress as Luck showed Sunday, Thursday represented something of a reality check.
“The name of the game for me is I’ve got to improve every day feeling-wise, technique-wise,’’ he said. “There were some things that looked pretty silly to be on film, and on the second day they were a little better.
“That’s sort of the approach.’’
Now, and moving forward.
Things will ramp up when Luck plays in the Aug. 9 preseason opener at Seattle, then exponentially more when the Cincinnati Bengals visit Lucas Oil Stadium Sept. 9.
“Oh, yeah, and every day there’ll be new hurdles,’’ Luck said. “That’s exciting to me.’’
On a daily basis Luck has had to reacquaint himself with the throwing progression: to stationary targets, to targets on the move, to targets on the move in a more controlled 7-on-7 setting, to trying to get the football to the intended target with ill-tempered defenders in his face.
While getting his “sea legs’’ back under him – his words – Luck has focused on sticking to his proper techniques. He admitted there are “subtle differences’’ in his throwing technique “that I’m not going to get into too much with you guys.’’
The idea is not to deviate from whatever changes have been made after taking the snap and trying to do his business in what often is a chaotic environment.
“You put the big guys in front of you, and you’re taking the snap, and you’re worried about blitzes and ‘Shoot, what was the play call again?’’’ Luck said. “Trying to sort of keep a calm mind and translate the technique that I want to use into those team situations and not revert back to old habits that I’ve sort of built up.
“(It’s) throwing, handing off, everything. Just sort of the technique of playing quarterback: getting away from center taking a snap, where your eyes go. But especially the throwing technique . . . especially the throwing technique.’’
Those are things that should be deeply engrained considering Luck is 28 and heading into his 7th season. But remember, since his last game – Jan. 1, 2017 – there’s that pesky shoulder surgery and subsequent commitment to fine-tune every phase of his game.
While we’re on Luck’s throwing, let it be known he’s not experiencing “pain’’ after throwing in practice. Rather he deals with “soreness, tiredness’’ that accompany throwing.
“Stresses on my arm that are different,’’ he said. “Shoot, stresses on everybody’s body at this camp that are different.’’
Also, he’s making all of the necessary throws, and he “let it rip’’ on a couple of occasions Friday.
“Yeah, I think so a couple of times,’’ Luck said. “There’s a couple of throws that second day that I felt very, very good about in team drills.’’
Really going deep with some of the throws?
“Deep, deep, deep, deep?’’ Luck replied with a laugh. “I think ‘ripping’ is a very subjective term, but I felt very good about some of the throws on day two. Different spots, short, intermediate, a little deep where ‘Oh, I’d be happy with that in a game.’
“Look, I’m not taking it like, ‘My arm needs to be 10 yards better today than I was the other day.’ That’s a weird world to live in. But does it feel better? I think we’ll see noticeable improvement over time.’’
Coach Frank Reich has been equally as encouraged.
“Without a doubt,’’ he said. “Obviously you guys saw the ‘go’ route to (Deon) Cain, which was really nice (with) the timing and rhythm of it. Hit a couple of ‘sail’ routes.
“There have been four or five throws, ‘Oh, yeah, that looks 100 percent, like normal.’ And there have been one or two (where he needs) to work through and just continue to get better.’’
You know, clear hurdles that are ahead.
One negative from Sunday’s practice was linebacker Anthony Walker suffering a groin injury and not returning. The severity of the injury wasn’t immediately known.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.