Andrew Luck shakes off rust on return to practice field
WESTFIELD, Ind. – Priority one was achieved: Andrew Luck didn’t bobble his first legitimate center exchange with Ryan Kelly in 19 months.
After that, the Indianapolis Colts’ $140 million quarterback checked off the next box on his “to do’’ list. Luck participated in his first full-go practice with his teammates in 574 days as the team opened the business side of training camp at Grand Park.
“It was a good day, a solid day in windy conditions,’’ coach Frank Reich said Thursday afternoon. “It was a good first day for him.’’
Not surprisingly, a bit of rust followed Luck onto the practice fields. There was a pass that sailed over the head of tight end Eric Ebron and timing issues on an “out’’ route to wideout Ryan Grant. After Luck misfired on a pass down the left seam to T.Y. Hilton, he used hand signals to his Pro Bowl wideout to make a subsequent correction.
The most glaring mistake occurred when Luck forced a pass into coverage down the left seam to tight end Erik Swoope that rookie linebacker Darius Leonard intercepted.
On the day, Luck completed 4-of-9 with the interception in 11-of-11 team drills. The pass rush from the defense impacted a few of the passes. Including 7-on-7 drills, Luck unleashed only 19 passes against the defense.
The number of throws will increase as camp unfolds. Luck’s schedule has him taking his normal reps Friday, resting Saturday when the team is in pads for the first time, then returning to work Sunday night when players again are in full pads.
“The workload today was good, but we didn’t overload any of the guys,’’ Reich said. “Practices will get a little longer, a few more reps as we go.’’
When Luck wasn’t taking his reps with the starting unit, he was standing next to Reich. They frequently were in deep discussion.
“It’s a little bit of everything,’’ Reich said. “Some of it might be technique-related, sometimes it’s just a play or two, an idea. Sometimes he’ll come back and say, ‘Hey, when we do that again, we can think of this. We hit that one time, let’s hit that the next time.’’’
Prior to practice, players were upbeat that Luck was returning. He last played Jan. 1, 2017 when he led the Colts to a 24-20 win over Jacksonville.
Kelly, Luck’s rookie center in 2016, noted it wouldn’t take long for the two to smooth out the center-quarterback exchange.
“It’s kind of like riding a bike. You just get back on,’’ he said. “It’s not too hard to figure out again.
“Same cadence. It’s crazy how fast things come back to you.’’
Kelly has been impressed by Luck’s sheer appearance. Luck lost weight immediately after his January 2017 surgery, but has buffed up to 240 pounds.
“I think he looks better than he’s ever looked before,’’ Kelly said. “He came back and I was like, ‘Dude, you a tight end now or something?’ He was just yoked.’’
While Thursday represented the next nature step in Luck’s return to prominence, its importance shouldn’t be dismissed.
“Let’s face it, he’s our leader,’’ Reich said. “We’ve got a lot of strong leaders, but it’s good to have him back out there.’’
The feeling apparently was mutual.
“You could see it in his demeanor,’’ Reich said. “You could see it in his eyes working through progressions. He looked sharp.’’
Luck wasn’t available to the media after practice, but admitted Wednesday there undoubtedly would be highs and lows as his comeback progressed.
“It will be interesting to step on the field again and practice,’’ he said. “There’ll be some times I scratch my head and say, ‘What the heck did I just do? Why? What’s going on?’
“But I know if I keep the same attitude and perspective and just improving every day . . . I think we’ll end up in a good spot.’’
With left tackle Anthony Castonzo on the non-football injury list, veteran guard Jack Mewhort filled his vacancy. That decision probably was impacted by starting right tackle Austin Howard being on the physically unable to perform list and also missing practice. Denzelle Good filled in for Howard.
Had Howard been available, Good might have served as Castonzo’s backup.
Also, Joe Haeg worked as Kelly’s backup at center.