It would have been easy to miss it. To miss the fact that the Colts activated outside linebacker Robert Mathis from the PUP list and to the active roster today. After all, star quarterback Andrew Luck did. He was just getting ready to begin practice like normal when his teammates began cheering. He looked over and saw why: number 98 was on the field getting ready to practice.
"That's cool," Luck said of seeing Mathis back out there. "It lifts your spirits. He's a warrior. In my, a little over three years here now or coming up on the fourth year, he's been the consummate professional. As good a teammate as I think you'll ever find. I remember watching him play is a thing of beauty, so glad he's back on the field."
The same feeling is shared by many Colts players, coaches, and fans as Mathis makes his return, but there's no one happier than the pass rusher himself. He hadn't practiced since tearing his Achilles nearly a year ago, and he's been itching to get back for a long time.
"It felt awesome," Mathis said of getting back on the practice field. "It's been a long time coming. I felt like a rookie again. I had butterflies, nervous. It was definitely worth it."
After talking with the trainers yesterday, Chuck Pagano and the Colts made the decision to activate Mathis from the PUP list this morning. It was time for him to get back on the field. "You had to hurry up and do it [put pads on and get dressed] before they changed their minds," Mathis joked about the decision. "I just tried to hurry and get out there and just have fun with it."
"It was just great," Pagano said of seeing Mathis back out there. "You saw the eye of the tiger, if you will. You saw that passion and just that gleam of, ‘Man, I'm back. I'm back on the grass. I'm back with my teammates. I get to play football again.' He's a kid. Like I said, we're all coaching and playing a kid's game. We know what the stakes are. He's able to go out and play four-square, hop-scotch, whatever you want to call it. He's playing football again."
Of course, while Mathis is back on the practice field, the Colts are going to be smart with it. At this point, Mathis will be doing walkthrough stuff and individual position work, after which the Colts will "just keep incrementally adding some reps on to him," Pagano said.
Mathis said he expects to be ready for the regular season opener, though Pagano said that there's still no timeline. "It's great to have him back out there," he noted. "I still think we've got a ways to go. We're not over the hill yet with him, but it's a great start. It's a great place to be for him and us. We've got 20 days until the opener, and if he's ready, then we'll do what we have to do. But if he's not, then we'll take our time with it."
Regardless of when he actually does return to play in an actual game with the Colts, the reality is that Robert Mathis returned to practice today, a huge step in his recovery. With how anxious he is to get back out there, however, he needs to remember he can't hit the guy wearing number 12 in practice. "Hopefully he sees the red jersey," Andrew Luck joked Tuesday, laughing as he did so. "But if he's rushing, that's a good sign for everybody on the Colts." It certainly is, and we're getting closer to seeing him rushing in a game situation. And, as Luck said, it'll be a good thing for the Colts.