Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck looks healthy and sounds confident.
All he has to do now is prove he can still sling a football.
After spending six weeks rehabbing his throwing shoulder in the Netherlands, the Colts' quarterback returned to Indianapolis on Friday with a promising prognosis.
"The pain has significantly gone down and that's why I'm so optimistic," Luck said in his first public comments in more than two months. "I feel really good today. I do not feel like I need another surgery. I believe in the process I'm in right now."
Luck even hopes to participate in the Colts' offseason workout this spring. It's the most encouraging news Indy's increasingly anxious fan base has heard all season.
But if Luck's recovery has taught the Colts (3-12) anything, it's this: There are no guarantees.
Team officials believed the typical six- to nine-month rehab process following January surgery for a partially torn labrum, would put Luck back on the field during in September. Instead, he didn't even start throwing a football until early October. Two weeks later, the throwing regimen stopped when Luck complained of soreness.
He was given a cortisone shot and sought out additional medical opinions before going on season-ending injured reserve Nov. 2. A couple weeks later, he left for Europe to work with a trusted trainer.
Luck stayed in touch with teammates, coaches and team doctors through text messages as speculation swirled about what was wrong. Some suggested he was getting experimental treatment while others questioned whether the injury might end his career.
On Friday, Luck finally provided some answers.
"Nothing crazy, no injection, nothing out of the ordinary," Luck said, explaining no additional medical procedures were done. "I think I realized in my mind that I just needed to get away because I was getting pulled in too many directions (mentally) and it was hard for me to keep the focus on getting better, getting better, getting better."
Still, he is not 100 percent and he hasn't resumed throwing, either.
But Luck's words are a welcome development for a team heading into a potentially tumultuous offseason.
The Colts were eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago, have blown seven second-half leads this season and are trying to snap a six-game skid when Houston (4-11) comes to town Sunday. It's the third consecutive year Indy has missed the postseason and the losing streak is the longest of coach Chuck Pagano's tenure.
Seventeen players, including Luck, will finish this season on injured reserve and if there is a coaching change, a healthy Luck would certainly make the job more enticing.
Those who know Luck best believe he'll come back better than ever.
"He's tough, man" running back Frank Gore said. "Trust me when you love the game and you respect it and you work at it like he does, he'll be fine."
Receiver T.Y. Hilton added: "He's a beast, he's a monster. He'll be fine."
What exactly Luck did overseas isn't entirely clear. Pagano provided no details about the workouts and no timetable for Luck's return. Luck didn't divulge much, either, other than saying the equipment he used was kept at the trainer's office and the initial pain scared him.
Today, Luck is convinced patience and work will complete the recovery — points general manager Chris Ballard made when Luck went on IR.
"It (the shoulder) feels stronger, more stable. I'm more confident in it," Luck said. "We're preparing to throw a football if that makes sense. I think we're on the right path, I think we're on the right progression."
Luck hurt the shoulder in September 2015, missed the next two games then returned for four more before sitting out the last seven with a lacerated kidney.
In 2016, the Colts tried to help Luck heal with extra rest before games. He responded with the best statistical season of his career including 31 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, then had surgery which has prevented him from taking a snap in nearly 12 months.
It hasn't been easy.
"You do not feel like a part of the team. It feels weird, but I don't feel like I'm a part of this team right now," Luck said. "There was a time, probably a couple weeks into being away from here, maybe early December, where it was tough to sort of see the positive in things."
Those days have passed, though.
"I'm not exactly where I want to be. I'm not 100 percent. I'd like to think if I'm 100 percent I'd be suiting up for a game Sunday," Luck said. "My gut and my feeling tell me I do not need another surgery. I need to work more and I need more time."