Colts need first-round talent (Andrew Luck, Ryan Kelly, Malik Hooker) to return, step up

Andrew Luck (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The focus is on today, tomorrow, September and beyond.

It’s not rehashing what went wrong last season – you know, no Andrew Luck and 4-12 – or how the Indianapolis Colts have slipped from perennial postseason participants to a franchise that has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.

“You’ve got to leave it in the past,’’ Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton said Tuesday afternoon. “If you carry it with you, you’re not getting better.’’

True.

However, a critical aspect of the Colts getting better – significantly better under first-year head coach Frank Reich – hinges upon whether a handful of top-tier players are able to make full recoveries from injuries that plagued them last season.

The Colts finished last season with 17 players in the injured reserve list. Eleven started at some point. Most damaging were injuries that limited the availability and effectiveness of the team’s first-round draft picks.

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (2011) didn’t miss an offensive snap, but he very much was the aberration.

A quick recap of what the Colts got last season from their first-round picks since 2011:

  • 2017: Safety Malik Hooker. Appeared in seven games with six starts; shared the team lead with three interceptions before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in week 7 against Jacksonville.
  • 2016: Center Ryan Kelly. His second season began with a broken bone in his left foot during training camp that cost him the first four games of the season and ended when he suffered a concussion week 12 against Tennessee.
  • 2015: Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Traded to New England Sept. 2.
  • 2014: None. Remember the trade for Trent Richardson? Probably still a sore point.
  • 2013: Defensive end Bjoern Werner. He’s no longer in the league.
  • 2012: Quarterback Andrew Luck. Missed all 16 games with his right shoulder issue.
  • 2012: Left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Started all 16 games for the fifth time in his seven-year career.

So much potential, so little contribution outside of Castonzo.

That must change moving forward, but will it?

There’s every reason to believe Kelly will return to anchor the middle of what once again will be a reshuffled offensive line.

Last week, Luck revealed his rehabilitation had yet to include throwing a regulation football and indicated he would do little throwing during the Colts’ offseason program. His goal: unrestricted throwing when training camp opens.

A Luck-Kelly reunion – we’ll remain a bit dubious until we see Luck wingin’ it during OTAs or at training camp – offers immediate stability to Frank Reich’s versatile, aggressive offense.

Tuesday, Hooker declined to offer a timetable on his return from the torn ACL. His rehab hasn’t included any on-field work.

“I’m doing great right now,’’ he said. “Just taking every day step-by-step, trying to get better and get for the season.’’

Is a return for training camp a reasonable objective?

“I don’t really pay attention to that,’’ Hooker said. “Right now it’s just crucial for me to get in there and try to work as hard as I can, just get healthy for the team.’’

This marks the second offseason Hooker will spend as much time rehabbing as learning the defense. He underwent hip/groin surgery following his final season at Ohio State, which greatly limited his preseason practice time.

If Hooker can regain the form he flashed before suffering his season-ending knee injury against the Jaguars – three interceptions, four defended passes, 21 tackles while playing centerfield – the Colts secondary could experience major progress.

It remains a young group. Hooker, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston were part of general manager Chris Ballard’s first draft class. Kenny Moore II also was a rookie while Pierre Desir. Hooker’s safety ‘mates include Clayton Geathers, Matthias Farley and T.J. Green.

Farley and Geathers are 25.

“I definitely feel like we’re a group that can take that next stride,’’ Hooker said. “You figure we were missing Clayton Geathers (and) a lot of us were dealing with injuries last year week-in and week-out.

“This is a fresh start for us. The offseason is the time to get your body ready for the season and I feel like we’re doing a great job of that.’’

We’ll see.

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