INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Not that it ever was in doubt, but Chuck Pagano reinforced his appreciation for a player who hasn’t stepped on the field in nearly a year.
Clearly, Andrew Luck has made a lasting impression.
“He’s been through hell,’’ Pagano offered Tuesday. “Everybody has, and no one more than him. And nobody wants to be back on the field more than Andrew.
“It’s unfortunate. He will be back. He will be back better than ever at some point. And he’ll be back on the field leading this organization, leading this team to multiple, multiple wins and championships. That’s just him.’’
That was the overriding topic of discussion as Pagano addressed the media as his Indianapolis Colts prepared for Saturday’s road test against the Baltimore Ravens.
The focus wasn’t on the team’s mounting injuries or maddening second-half collapses, or even the challenge presented by the 8-6 Ravens, who remain in the middle of the AFC wild-card chase.
It was about Andrew Luck, whose sixth season has been sabotaged by a balky right shoulder. The Colts’ cornerstone player has spent the past month in Europe receiving alternative treatment to alleviate soreness and inflammation that forced him to halt his throwing regimen in mid-October.
Luck is expected back in town within the next week or so, at which time he likely will speak to the local media for the first time since Oct. 12. He will resume throwing to determine if the alternative treatment was a success, or whether corrective surgery is required.
Pagano’s Luck-related comments began with him in a defensive mode and deflecting a question seeking a Luck update.
“When Andrew gets back here and we get a chance to talk to him and evaluate him and our docs and trainers get a chance to talk to win, then ask me about him,’’ he said. “If that fair enough?’’
But when follow-up questions came, Pagano’s affinity for Luck became obvious. Their Indy roots are intertwined. Pagano was named the Colts’ head coach in January 2012. Three months later, Luck arrived as the first overall pick in the NFL draft.
A source with knowledge of Luck’s situation said he has remained in communication with the organization while in Europe and signs on his rehab are “all very positive at this point.’’
Pagano revealed he and Luck recently exchanged emails and, “thought he sounded great reading between the lines. Said he’s in a good place, eager to get back.’’
According to Pagano, the back-and-forth was as much personal as it was medical.
Pagano: How are you doing? How’s Nicole? How’s your body? How’s your mind? How are you feeling?
Luck: All good.
Pagano: How’s your family/ Are you in a good place?
“This is an unfortunate set of circumstances for everybody, but it’s life and life happens,’’ Pagano said. “He’s a warrior and he’s done so much for this organization over the last five years.
“He’s battled through injuries. He’s played (injured). He’s played hurt.’’
Luck rarely, if ever, dwelled on injuries enough though they mounted as his career unfolded.
“Yeah, because he’s got grit,’’ Pagano responded to Luck’s reluctance to discussing injuries. “He’s not soft like everybody else.’’
Luck will have missed 26 of the Colts’ last 48 regular-season games with a litany of injuries contributed to playing behind an inconsistent offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 156 times in 70 regular-season games.
The medical issues include the right shoulder, which he first injured in week 3 of the 2015 season; a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle suffered against Denver in week 9 of ’15 that cost him the final seven games of the season; a concussion; an ankle issue and injuries to his right thumb and right elbow.
“He’s never going to make any excuse,’’ Pagano said. “All he ever did was shoulder (the responsibility). Things went well, it was because of everybody else. When things went bad, it was because of (Luck).
“Am I right? He never once complained about anything. So kudos to that man.’’
No one should question Luck’s value to the Colts. With him under center, they’re 43-27. They reached the playoffs in each of his first three seasons and advanced to the AFC Championship game after the 2014 season.
Without him, they’re 9-15, including 3-11 this season.
“I hate it for him,’’ Pagano said. “I hate it for him because nobody sacrifices as much as he has for this organization over the last five years that he’s played.
“He’s a warrior. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great pro. He’s a great player. I can’t say enough about the kid and how bad we feel for him, especially myself.’’