Wednesday, September 30, 2020

OTAs: All You Need Is A Little Luck

The last few years for the Colts have been a struggle, to say the least. A lackluster roster carried by Andrew Luck has been exposed with the star QB dealing with injuries the past few years. Luck carried this team to three 11-5 seasons as the starting QB. Then the injury bug hit Luck hard. As Luck played sparingly the next few years, the Colts ended with seasons of 8-8, 8-8, and 4-12. The GM and coach got fired, things started to look up, but the missing piece to the puzzle was still Andrew Luck.

After 527 days, I’m happy to report, Andrew Luck threw a football.

The Injury

After signing a huge 6 year $140 million contract in 2016, there were high expectations despite the disappointing 2015 season when he played only seven games. Luck has a stellar season with a career-high 63.5% completion rate. This coupled with his 4240 yards and 31 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions claim the season a success.

Despite that, he had a nagging injury that the Colts always seemed to play off. On September 1, 2016, the Colts reported he had a frayed labrum (shoulder injury). Despite being limited in practice all season long, the Colts constantly brushed it off. The Colts claimed there was no problem and Luck played in every game but one, but that was due to a concussion.

On January 19th, 2017, after the Colts missed the playoffs for the 2nd straight year, he decided to have surgery on his shoulder. It seemed like it would be a quick and easy solution to a nagging issue. Nobody was worried. Sufficeth to say, they were wrong.

As training camp approached and Luck still hadn’t thrown a football, panic started to creep in. Day by day, as time continued to pass, he still continued to sit on the sidelines. Preseason came along and the Colts assured fans that he would play in the regular season and the Colts decided not to put Luck on the PUP list (which would have knocked him out 6 weeks).

On October 2nd, 9 months after the surgery, the Colts began to insert him back into the routine of practice. Things were looking up and Luck looked like he was ready to play in the next few weeks with the Colts in the midst of a playoff berth.

Then things took a turn a bad turn. On October 29th, the Colts announced, “Luck has started to feel pain in his shoulder after throwing for a few weeks and will not be practicing for the time being.” While this was devastating for Colts fans, there was still some hope that he would still play…if he was healthy.

On November 2nd, that hope vanished. The Colts placed Andrew Luck on IR, effectively knocking him out for the rest of the season.

 

Impact On Colts

8 months later and here we are. It has been 527 days since Luck played in an NFL game. On June 12th, 2018 he reportedly resumed throwing in practice. A great sign for his 2018 season outlook. Obviously, it will take much rehab and recovery to get him back to full strength, but the Colts are sighing a breath of relief right now.

So what does Luck coming back mean for this offense? To be frank, it means everything. In 2017 (when he didn’t play a single game) the Colts struggled mightily on offense. They owned the 3rd worst scoring offense with 16.4 PPG in addition to the 2nd least YPG with 284.6. Not good at all.

Andrew Luck will return to a peculiar situation. He will return to an offense suddenly dire of weapons. Luck’s favorite target and alpha dog WR T.Y Hilton still remains at the top of the depth chart, but the depth at wide receiver falters after that. The Colts employ someone named Chester Rodgers as their 2nd WR. While Rodgers has shown some flashes of being a solid player, it remains to be seen how well he can fill the role of WR2.

Luck’s 3rd receiver is newly signed Ryan Grant, the former player of the Washington Redskins. Grant had a career year, but unfortunately, “career year” entailed a 45-573-4 line. Grant looks to be the 3rd receiver for the Colts, only because he has to. The Colts depth at WR is dangerously thin.

Tight end is where it gets interesting. Ultra reliable Jack Doyle is still in the fold and should thrive under Andrew Luck once again. The acquisition of free agent Eric Ebron is where things truly become interesting. After being the no. 10 overall pick in 2014, Ebron has been a bust so far. He went that early for a reason however, if he can get back to the shape he was in college, watch out because Ebron can be a handful.

Andrew Luck makes this team so much better

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck may have his best running back situation yet. The Colts have boom-or-bust runner Marlon Mack in the fold already. Mack showed a great propensity for big plays, as 6 of his 93 carries went for at least 20 yards. Unfortunately, a lot of his runs went for negative plays. He ended with a pedestrian 3.8 YPC. The Colts drafted Nyheim Hines with the 104th overall pick. At 5’8” 198 lbs, Hines is far from a bell cow, but his 4.38 40 time and impressive passing ability will benefit this offense greatly. This backfield is looking like a committee, but one that will complement Luck beautifully.

Andrew Luck doesn’t take a lot of hits. Just kidding, yes he does. But they’re not his fault. Luck always slides when he scrambles to avoid taking unnecessary hits. What is out of control is the number of hits he takes as a passer. In Luck’s first 3 years in the league, he had 352 QB knockdowns (hits+sacks). That was easily most in the league. A seriously concerning sight for your franchise player. Luck is a tough guy, but the human body can only take so much.

The silver lining of this whole injury palooza is that it gave the Colts some time to retool their offensive line. Luck will be playing for his best offensive line ever. It will start with his trusty left tackle Anthony Costanzo who ranked as a top 10 tackle by PFF. At one of the guard spots, the Colts have Jack Mewhort who ranked as the #9 tackle by PFF in 2016 before struggling with injuries in 2017. The Colts drafted Ryan Kelly in the first round back in 2016 as the “center of the future”. After a solid rookie year, Kelly struggled with injuries in 2017.

The Colts just draft beastly guard Quentin Nelson, who has been noted to be the best offensive lineman prospect ever. The Colts also signed Austin Howard, who at this stage in his career is an average guard, but he is better than what was on the roster before. In 2018, the hope is that the entire offensive line can stay healthy and protect Andrew Luck, as this is a group with solid talent and serious potential.

The reality is, Luck has played through terrible situations and found success. In his first 3 years, he set the record for most passing yards. This was in spite of the fact he was throwing to guys like Griff Whalen, Chester Rodgers, Donnie Avery, etc. Andrew Luck is an elite talent who has the ability to make average receivers look good.

Andrew Luck will have a new coach after years under defensive-minded Chuck Pagano. Frank Reich, the former offensive coordinator for the Eagles, will be taking over as Head Coach for the Colts. Reich did wonders for Philly’s offense last year with his uptempo offensive scheme. Reich utilized two tight end sets churning career seasons out of Zach Ertz and Trey Burton. The hope is that Reich can do the same this year with this Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron. Reich also worked a serious committee at running back. This will be a similar situation to what the Colts have now. Reich will look to work his magic once again.

Andrew Luck’s recovery is a huge story for the Colts. The Colts can create a marvelous roster, but Luck is the last piece of the puzzle. The Colts will need Luck to get healthy and get back to his prior form. Andrew Luck throwing is the first step toward his return. His rehab will be one of the main storylines to watch, as the Colts have been sorely lacking their franchise QB.

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