Now, the regular season is less than four weeks away and Luck isn’t practicing, and the burning question is whether he will be ready to play in Week 1.
Colts owner Jim Irsay added another twist to the story in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio late Monday night when he said his franchise quarterback is dealing with a bone issue in his lower left leg.
“I know everyone’s had their questions about Andrew and that sort of thing, but I really feel very confident that he’s going to find his way through this thing,” Irsay said. “After the [Kevin] Durant things, everyone’s erring on the side of caution, but quite frankly this is not even in the Achilles tendon. It’s in another area. It’s a bone. You know I’m not good at these things. … It’s a small little bone.”
Irsay’s comments prompted Colts general manager Chris Ballard to have a conference call Tuesday night, when he revealed that his quarterback is dealing a high-ankle injury in his left leg.
Luck’s latest injury saga, which started more than three months ago during a workout at the team facility, leaves everybody wondering if a quarterback with NFL MVP buzz will be on the field on Sept. 8 against the Los Angeles Chargers since he has practiced only three times — none as a full participant — since suffering the injury.
“We’re 3½ weeks away from the regular season, I’m not ready to say [Luck won’t play against the Chargers],” Ballard said Tuesday night.
How did Luck and the Colts get to this point?
March: An MRI on Luck’s leg revealed a calf strain, Ballard said.
“Then in May he was still having pain right below the calf,” Ballard said. “We tested it. To test it, go in to your specialist and they give you a numbing shot and if it makes you feel automatically better, then there’s no doubt that’s what it is. That wasn’t the case. It may have been a little relief, but not a lot of relief. At that point we said we don’t think that’s what it is. After X-rays in May, we’ll keep moving down the same path.”
May 21: The Colts opened up OTAs the week of May 20 with Luck not participating. Coach Frank Reich referred to his injury as a “little tweak, a little strain” that happened during the training portion of offseason workouts with the team.
Reich thought it would be a short-term absence.
“Where we are at right now we will just say, ‘Hey, play conservative this week. Let’s just [do] nothing this week and then we will re-evaluate after this week and see where he is.’ I don’t anticipate him being out the whole camp, no,” Reich said.
May 29: Reich made it seem like Luck’s calf strain wouldn’t linger when he said he had one during his own playing career.
“You feel it tweak and you try to probably come back too soon and then it takes longer to heal if you don’t respect it at the start,” Reich said. “So personally, I’ve learned that those calf strains are something that if you had to go out and play on Sunday, you could go out and play. But if you really want to take care of it, you let it heal. So if we are in season, it’s one thing. But when you’re not in season, it’s like, let’s just get this thing right.”
June 11: Luck didn’t participate in the team’s three-day minicamp. Reich said Luck’s calf strain was on the “longer side” and that the team was being “conservative” with him.
“I’m bummed that I have had to miss all of the OTAs and then again this week,” Luck said. “I’ve dealt with injuries in the past. I think we are on a very, very good page and I will be ready for training camp and the early report date and all that.”
The concern level for Luck being ready for the start of training camp seemed minimal because the team had six weeks until the start of camp. Reich said “barring anything crazy, in my mind it’s more of a no-brainer” that the quarterback would be ready for it.
July 24: “Crazy” happened. Colts GM Ballard, in his normal pre-training camp media session, said Luck, along with other players who were injured during the offseason, would be brought along slowly early in camp.
“We don’t want him to get out there and have a setback,” Ballard said. “We’re so process-orientated in taking the right — if we’ve learned anything, when I walked in the door through the first injury [shoulder] he had, let’s just make sure we’re taking the right steps. We’re getting ready to play the Chargers; that’s where our mindset is right now. So, making sure we’re taking all of the right steps with all of these guys.”
July 25: Reich was asked by ESPN if the Achilles injury to NBA All-Star forward Kevin Durant following his calf strain during the playoffs played a part in the Colts’ methodical approach in Luck’s return.
“I was certainly thinking [about] it,” Reich said. “I didn’t have that conversation with Chris [Ballard] or any of our trainers. But that’s this business. When you see something like that happen, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s why you do what we’re doing.’ It was kind of like unspoken truth. That’s why we’re being cautious.”
July 25-27: Luck practiced for two days, then took a scheduled day off. He was sharp in 7-on-7 drills, going 8-of-9 with just a coverage sack on one of the days. He traded his helmet for a baseball cap once the Colts went to team drills in practice.
July 28: Signs of problems appeared. Some of Luck’s throws were off the mark and he spent time doing different mechanical movements without a ball after making a throw.
July 29: Luck met with Reich on the team’s off day and decided to shut it down for the immediate future because of pain in his ankle to go along with the calf problem.
July 30: Luck publicly acknowledged he had suffered a setback. He felt something was going to “yank” or “pull” when he opened up and said he had a difficult time changing directions aggressively. He said he had multiple MRIs and X-rays done and his calf wasn’t torn and there were no problems with his Achilles.
“I’m not where I want to be,” Luck said. “I did not improve feeling-wise, pain-wise. This is something I vowed to myself after going through 2016-17. I would be, one, honest with myself about how I felt pain-wise with things. Two, honest with the people involved. Make sure we took the time about making good decisions going forward. I know I did not improve with the three practices.”
One of the reasons Luck didn’t press the issue with his injury was because he still had “emotional scars” from playing through his shoulder problems, which started in Week 3 of the 2015 season and ended up costing him the entire 2017 season. He pushed his ego to the side and listened to his body.
“I could not live with myself if we get to a point in the season and say, ‘Hey, I could’ve done this to take care of this issue, but I didn’t because of X, Y, Z, whatever that is,’” Luck said. “I’m not going to allow that to happen. It’s something, again — 2016. I still have some emotional scars from that and that lives with me still, but I’m trying to use it in a positive way certainly for myself.”
Week of Aug. 1: Luck spent time in the team’s indoor training camp facility working with throwing coach Tom House so they could put his throwing sessions on tape. Luck, according to Reich, spent the week taking 100 percent of the snaps — about 60 — during the team’s walk-throughs as a way to try to keep him up to speed with the offense.
“This is live reps, man,” Reich said. “OK, it is not physically live, but in every other way it is live. You can get so much done there. Andrew is doing a phenomenal job with that.”
Aug. 9: Reich dropped another negative nugget about Luck’s health during a conference call the day after Indianapolis’ preseason opener against Buffalo.
“He is continuing to progress with his strength, which is awesome,” Reich said. “There’s a degree of pain that he is not comfortable with, and obviously we are not comfortable with putting him out there.”
Luck, who is “driving the train” on his return, according to Reich, was a spectator off to the side during the practices on Aug. 10 and 11. The coach expressed no concerns about Luck having to play catch-up once he returns.
“This isn’t the average physical human being,” Reich said. “This guy is freakish in his abilities, physically and mentally, [and] when he gets back, he’s naturally gonna progress faster because of his gifts.”
Luck’s presence on the sideline — even watching in a red practice jersey — could be seen as a positive sign of where he’s at mentally and even physically, as he didn’t do that often while out with his shoulder injury during the 2017 season.
Reich said Monday that Luck would not participate in the two days of joint practices with the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday and Thursday.
Aug. 13: Ballard said Luck’s ankle was tested Monday night and it revealed the high-ankle injury. Luck has been ruled out for the preseason, as the Colts turn their focus to the quarterback rehabbing his ankle to help stop the pain.
“The issue right now is the side-to-side stuff,” Ballard said. “Kind of rolling of the ankle. Anything back and forth, he’s good. Standing there, throwing, he’s good. Moving in the pocket, those are the kind of things we have to get him better at.”
Ballard said Luck can play at less than 100 percent if the “pain is under control,” if he can “protect himself” and if he can play well.
All those things are in question, just like Luck’s status for Week 1 against the Chargers.