Colts’ training camp preview: Quarterbacks

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – An offseason of major change ramps up July 29 when the Indianapolis Colts report to their Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for the start of training camp.

Over the next several days, we’ll take a positional look at how general manager Chris Ballard has structured the roster. Is the team equipped to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 or will it miss the postseason in three consecutive seasons for the first time in more than two decades (1988-94)?

Today: Quarterbacks.

Starter: Andrew Luck.

Backup: Scott Tolzien.

Others: Stephen Morris, Phillip Walker.

  • Ready or not?: We won’t bore you with the Top 5 questions heading into training camp Only one truly matters with the Colts: Will Luck be ready? Has the $140 million QB resumed throwing during his six-month rehab from January surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder?

Owner Jim Irsay has offered tons of optimism. He provided an early prognosis in March: “I would say that certainly he should be pretty close to being ready and really throwing it around pretty damn well once training camp comes.’’

Ballard and coach Chuck Pagano offered no updates during the team’s offseason work, and Luck was equally as evasive. He routinely was on the field during practice, but never limbered up his right arm.

“If I’m ready (for camp), then great,’’ he said at the close of the offseason work in mid-June. “If I’m not, then that’s the way it is. I’m certainly hopeful for it.’’

Luck attempted to ease the angst regarding his status.

Fans, he insisted, “don’t need to have any concern about their quarterback. It’ll be alright.’’

But when?

From a calendar standpoint, Luck seems to be on track even though there’s a good chance he opens camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as he continues his rehab.

Normal rehab from labrum surgery is in the six-month range, according to Jamey Gordon, a rehab specialist with St. Vincent Sports Performance. Once a QB resumes throwing, added SiriusXM medical analyst Dr. David Chao, a six-week window should be anticipated for him to approach full-practice status.

So again, the normal rehab timeframe works: Start throwing sometime this week or next, use the six-week window to get Luck to September, be ready for the Sept. 10 opener in Los Angeles against the Rams.

The obvious problem is the extended time Luck will have missed. Even if he’s physically ready for the Rams, there undoubtedly will be issues with the timing with his receivers and offensive linemen. Issues with timing often result in mistakes.

If Luck is able to play at a high level from the outset – and that’s a huge If – the schedule is conducive to a fast start by the Colts. Of the first eight opponents, only one (at Seattle Oct. 1) reached the playoffs last season. The early schedule includes the Rams (4-12 in ’16), Cleveland (1-15), San Francisco (2-14) and Jacksonville (3-13).

And here’s where we remind you the Colts have been notorious slow-starters. They’ve opened 0-2 the last three seasons.

But let’s not forget Luck authored one of his most efficient seasons last year despite dealing with the balky right shoulder and an inconsistent offensive line. He set career highs in completion percentage (63.5) and yards per attempt (7.8), and countered 13 interceptions with 31 touchdown passes.

  • Backup plan: Tolzien remains entrenched at No. 2, and we would argue that’s a strong indication management believes Luck will be ready for the Rams. If there were serious concerns about Luck’s availability for early September, Irsay and/or Ballard might have invested in a more accomplished veteran backup.

Tolzien benefitted from Luck’s absence during the offseason by getting extensive work with the No. 1 offense. Morris and rookie Walker divvied up the remaining repetitions.

Tolzien, 30 and entering his seventh season, largely remains an unknown quantity. He made his third career start last year against Pittsburgh – Luck was sidelined with a concussion – and while he wasn’t the reason the Colts dropped a 28-7 decision to the Steelers, neither did Tolzien make enough plays to give them a chance at an upset. After tossing a 5-yard TD to Donte Moncrief in the second quarter that narrowed Pittsburgh’s lead to 14-7, Tolzien was unable to capitalize on a pair of first-and-goal situations in the second half. Each ended with fourth-down incompletions at the 1-yard line. In his first extended action since November 2013, Tolzien completed 22 of 36 passes for 205 yards with one touchdown and two late interceptions with the game slipping away.

  • Worth noting: Luck enters the season with a streak of 23 consecutive regular-season games with a touchdown pass, the NFL’s longest active streak.

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