INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Andrew Luck’s return from shoulder surgery has hit a snag. At issue is whether it’s a temporary setback, or one that will threaten his availability for the rest of the season.
The Indianapolis Colts are temporarily “shutting down’’ their franchise quarterback’s throwing due to lingering soreness and inflammation in his right shoulder, general manager Chris Ballard said Wednesday. Luck, who underwent surgery in January to repair a torn labrum, returned to practice on a limited basis Oct. 4.
The team hopes cortisone shots will alleviate the soreness and swelling in Luck’s shoulder, allowing him to return to his rehab schedule.
But Ballard could offer no guarantees.
Does he expect Luck to play this season?
“I don’t want to speculate right now,’’ he said. “I’m not going to put a timeline on that.’’
Is there a timeline for how long Luck will be idle?
“No, and I don’t want to do that,’’ Ballard said. “I don’t think it will be long. I don’t. But I don’t want to sit here and give you an exact date and it doesn’t happen and then you’re going, ‘What was that guy talking about?’’’
Then, the obvious question: Have the Colts considered placing their $140 million quarterback on the season-ending injured reserve list?
“No, no,’’ Ballard said. “Not at this time. No.’’
The uncertainty aside, this nonetheless represents a significant impediment to Luck’s return and a serious blow to Colts remaining relevant in the AFC playoff picture. He’s practiced four times – twice in each of the last two weeks – but has been on a “pitch count’’ to ensure his right shoulder wasn’t given too heavy a workload.
Last week, Luck was lofting 30-, 40-yard passes, albeit without serious velocity on them. His practice regimen included running a handful of plays with the “scout’’ team against the Colts’ No. 1 defense.
"He's had some shoulder soreness so they gave him a cortisone shot."
Chris Ballard's explanation on taking Luck out of practice this week. pic.twitter.com/gHnCNMPB2y
— Tricia Whitaker (@TriciaWhitaker) October 18, 2017
The soreness and swelling that have stalled Luck’s comeback, Ballard insisted, are not totally unexpected.
“Yeah, part of the process,’’ he said. “It’s natural that there is going to be some pain and soreness when rehabbing an injury. It’s been kind of coming along the whole time. It’s just one thing that just hasn’t gone away.
“We’re going to try to shut him down and calm it down for right now.’’
For perspective, consider the Carolina Panthers encountered a similar situation with quarterback Cam Newton. He underwent surgery in March to repair a torn right rotator cuff. Newton was ready for training camp in late July, but at one point experienced soreness in his right shoulder and was held out of practice for a short time.
Luck has kept the team’s medical and rehab staffs appraised of how he’s felt.
“He’s been very in tuned with where he’s at,’’ Ballard said. “Andrew’s got a good sense of how he feels and where he’s at. He’s communicated that with us the whole time and we’ve made sure we’ve kept a daily log of where we’re and where we’re going.’’
Ideally, once the soreness and swelling dissipate, Luck’s rehab will pick up where it left off.
However, the setback only pushes a possible return further out. Although the team hasn’t offered any timeline, it was thought Luck might return for the Oct. 29 game at Cincinnati or Nov. 5 game at Houston.
Now, it’s anyone’s guess.
That means the Colts’ immediate future remains in the hands of Jacoby Brissett. He’s won two of his five starts since replacing Scott Tolzien after Tolzien was ineffective in the season-opening 46-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Colts stand at 2-4 heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans share AFC South lead at 3-3.
The division remains very winnable, but Luck’s return – sooner, not later – was seen as critical to the Colts’ chances.
During Monday night’s broadcast of the Colts-Tennessee Titans game, Matt Hasselbeck questioned Luck’s readiness.
“I’m not a doctor, but I watch practice, and I know who he was as a thrower and I see where he is now in his rehab and he’s not close,’’ the former Colts backup QB and current ESPN analyst said.
The soreness aside, Ballard said Luck’s rehab has progressed as expected.
“It’s been going well,’’ he said. “You’ve seen him throw. I’ve watched every session of him throwing. It’s been going really well. His velocity is good. His motion is good. All of that is coming along in a good way.
“It’s the soreness right now that we are dealing with that we have to get through. Understand this: every player is different. Every rehab is different. Every surgery is different. That’s why we’ve never put a timeline on this.
“The good news is that Andrew is very in tune with his body and is honest about what is going on. That’s what we want and what we need. I don’t think anyone in this room can question Andrew Luck’s toughness and willingness to go out and play with pain.’’
The objective, though, is for Luck to get to the point he’s practicing and throwing without any pain or discomfort. He’s dealt with the right shoulder issue since first injuring it Sept. 27, 2015 at Tennessee.
“His long-term success is what we are looking for, much like any player,’’ Ballard said. “That’s what’s important to us.’’
Luck started the first 51 regular-season games of his career before injuries became an issue. He’s now missed 16 of the Colts’ last 35 games.
He missed nine games in 2015 – two with the right shoulder issue and the final seven after suffering a lacerated kidney in week 9 against Denver. Luck missed one game last year with a concussion and it’s anyone’s guess if/when he’ll play this season.