INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chris Ballard made one thing crystal clear 15 months ago when he first settled into his role as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts: It never will be about one person.
Even if that one person is Andrew Luck.
While Ballard’s message was and remains understandable – an argument can be made a team only is as good as its weakest parts – there’s no overstating the importance of Luck participating in the Colts’ voluntary minicamp.
Even a non-throwing Luck.
His inclusion made an immediate impression with Jack Doyle. The Pro Bowl tight end holds the distinction of catching Luck’s last meaningful pass, a 1-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining that secured a 24-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Jan. 1, 2017.
After sharing the huddle with Luck during Tuesday’s minicamp session, Doyle felt the need later in the day to share the experience with his wife.
“It was awesome. I can’t lie to you,’’ he said. “I was telling my wife about that.
“It was just fun to hear him call a play a couple of times. It was great to have him out there. I know everyone knows how hard he’s working to be ready to go. We’re excited about that.’’
That excitement is expected, considering we’re talking about the face of the franchise, and one who missed all of 2017 while dealing with his right shoulder issues.
The minicamp plan is for Luck to be “fully engaged,’’ according to coach Frank Reich, with the exception of throwing.
“There’s no reason to take any big chances,’’ Reich said. “Everything is going so well.’’
While Jacoby Brissett, Phillip Walker and Brad Kaaya were loosing up with short passes Wednesday, Luck stood to the side under the guidance of offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. He took shotgun snaps and shuffled back in three- and five-step drops. It was apparent he was focusing on his proper footwork and pre-throwing mechanics. He cocked his arm, but didn’t complete the throwing process. His “throwing’’ consisted of underhand return tosses to Sirianni.
“He is in the final stages of the completion of that total rehab process, that is check the box every step of the way,’’ Reich said. “Just very encouraged.’’
During team drills, which occurred after the media was allowed to watch, Luck commanded the huddle and worked on handoffs with the running backs.
Luck indicated earlier this month his goal is to be ready to throw without limitations when training camp opens in late July or early August.
“I don’t anticipate doing too much or you guys seeing me doing too much out there,’’ he said.
Luck’s on-field progress is paramount for a team that a year ago lost the interest of a portion of its fan base by finishing 4-12. The Colts are looking to avoid four consecutive non-winning records for the first time in more than three decades. The last drought of at least four seasons (1978-86) actually spans two cities: Baltimore and Indy.
While Luck’s return to full-go status is at least three months away, no one should question the importance of his mere presence at practice and at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
“He’s our leader,’’ Doyle said.
Ballard and Reich are committed to recreating the type of culture that existed when the Colts were dominant in the early 2000s. That takes time, and the right caliber of players.
“When we talk about culture and creating culture, it’s no secret around the league,’’ Reich said. “It’s players-led leadership. Coaches come in and we try to put our stamp on it and what we want to do and set the tone in certain areas.
“But really what it’s all about is the whole team. It’s about the organization. Every person counts, especially our veteran leaders, guys who have been around. Guys like Andrew. It’s really at all positions. You need guys to step up, take a leadership role, be part of creating habit, culture.’’
Luck’s second rehab from right shoulder surgery – the first was shut down last October when he experienced soreness and swelling when he began throwing in practice – has included extended stints in the Netherlands and on the West Coast.
Now, he’s back in town for the duration.
“I think he’s in a great spot mentally, emotionally, the whole deal,’’ Reich said. “It’s great to have him out there. He’s participating. Obviously not throwing, but really engaged when we can get him out there in team period and we’re doing ball-handling, get him in the huddle, just let his natural leadership take over and learn the offense.’’
Reich still very much is learning about the personnel he inherited. He did his homework over the past several weeks in preparation for minicamp, and occasionally finds himself rewinding video two, three, four times when going over practices and certain drills.
One of his messages to players after Tuesday’s practice: “Man, just good to see you guys out on the field rather than looking at film or looking at pictures.’’
It was encouraging, Reich said, for the players “just being on the field with helmets on, running routes. And what you experience is, ‘Hey’ we’ve got some guys. We’ve got some players.’’
And that, again, accentuates the importance of Luck – the team’s $140 million quarterback – being on hand.
Of the 77 players under contract, 56 – nearly 73 percent – have never stepped on the field with the franchise’s most important player.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.