WESTFIELD, Ind. — In a wide-ranging chat with the local media Friday, general manager Chris Ballard needed only a few words to ease the overriding concern that has held the Indianapolis Colts’ fan base captive this offseason.
Andrew Luck, he announced, is “good to go” when training camp opens Wednesday at Grand Park in Westfield.
That sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief.
Luck won’t throw every day once the Colts open practice Thursday.
“We’re going to try to mimic it like a regular season,” Ballard said. “We’re going to have days off. He’s not going to throw seven days a week.”
However, there will be no limitations when Luck’s on the practice field and the team’s $140 million quarterback will direct the starting offense.
That reaffirms Luck’s goal he first shared with the media in mid-April.
“I want to go into training camp without a governor on,” he said.
Luck added another tidbit in mid-June that had to boost fans’ optimism considering he missed the 2017 season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.
Did he expect to on the field in the Sept. 9 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium?
“Yeah, absolutely,” Luck responded.
Knock on wood that you’ll be ready for week 1?
“No, no knock on wood,” Luck quickly replied. “I’m going to be there. I’ll be playing. I believe it in my bones.”
More to the point, Ballard’s announcement means Luck is feeling it – confidence that is – in his right shoulder.
“Andrew is an elite competitor. I think you’ve seen that during his career,” Ballard said. “I don’t think there are any mental restrictions. (It’s) getting live reps vs. live people. That’s the timing and getting used to moving in the pocket, all those things you have to get used to.”
Luck last appeared in a game Jan. 1, 2017 when he led a season-ending 24-20 win over Jacksonville. Shortly thereafter, he underwent surgery to repair a partially-torn labrum in his right shoulder. He first damaged the shoulder Sept. 27, 2015 at Tennessee.
The initial rehabilitation last offseason stalled after four controlled practice throwing sessions in mid-October resulted in soreness and swelling in Luck’s right shoulder. When a cortisone shot and rest didn’t resolve the issue, the team placed him on the season-ending injured reserve list Nov. 2.
What amounts to a second rehab process included extended work with a personal trainer in the Netherlands, and with throwing gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on the West Coast.
Luck threw briefly and casually in front of the media during two minicamp practices in June, and has spent the last week or so throwing with some of his receivers at Stanford. Chester Rogers announced the pending throwing sessions on his Twitter account earlier this month.
Ballard used his second offseason as Colts GM to further reshape the roster. He added 11 players from the April draft, including 6th-overall pick Quenton Nelson, an All-American guard out of Notre Dame. His selective shopping on the veteran free-agent market produced tight end Eric Ebron, wideout Ryan Grant, guard Matt Slauson, offensive tackle Austin Howard and defensive end Denico Autry.
Even so, any Colts-related discussion invariably focused on Luck. With him, they should be a competitive outfit, even with their remaining roster flaws. Without him, well, everyone witnessed that last season when they finished 4-12.
That Luck-centric focus isn’t likely to change.
“I still think we’ll get questions until he lines up and plays again, and plays high-level football again,” Ballard said. “I can just see the panic the first time he throws an interception. It’s just part of what we do. He understands it. He gets it.
“It’s been fun, and really neat, watching his growth as a man, in who he is. And (to) watch his confidence grow. It’s been fun to watch. And I’ve gotten close with the kid.”
Ballard monitored Luck’s offseason progress, and grew more optimistic with each passing day, no pun intended.
“I’m not with him (on the West Coast), but I’ve seen enough throws that I know he’s throwing the ball pretty well,” he said. “I thought the first day (at minicamp) there was one ball on the swing pass . . . ‘OK, there you go, he really let it go.’ The next day, four or five balls that he really let go.
“I think that’ll be the case when you get to camp.”
Ballard admitted there’s a “fine line” separating Luck’s need to practice yet not overdoing it, but added, “there’s no doubt he’s gotta play.
“Andrew needs to play and he knows that. More team reps and live reps he can get, and making sure he can play in the preseason.”
And that’s the next step in Luck’s comeback: how much might he play in the four preseason games? The Colts open Aug. 9 at Seattle.
Coach Frank Reich and Ballard will determine the preseason workload of Luck, and every player.
“We’ll see,” Ballard said of Luck. “I don’t want to put a for-sure, Seattle, or not. We’ll see and I’ll talk with our staff.”