Halfway through the 2017 season, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves with a 2-6 record and without their franchise quarterback. Off-season shoulder surgery to replace a torn labrum has gone through the initial healing process, rehabilitation, and built to Andrew Luck finally participating on a limited basis at the start of October.
After two weeks that included making some throws as a member of the scout team offense, Luck started to experience some soreness in his shoulder and received a cortisone shot to relieve swelling. Since that time, Indianapolis has returned to the wait-and-see approach without any timetable for his return. It was initially speculated that he might take a week or two off to simply rehab before returning, but at the end of those two weeks the soreness has not subsided.
Colts General Manager Chris Ballard provided fans with some good news in a surprise press conference two weeks ago. He said that following successful rest and rehabilitation, Luck would not have to start the whole process over but would be able to pick up where he left off, suggesting that he would go right back to taking limited reps with the scout team and continue to progress from there.
Sunday, Jay Glazer reported that Luck will be seeking additional medical opinions on the status of his throwing shoulder because he is still experiencing pain. Chris Mortensen also confirmed that Luck is seeking another opinion because his shoulder is “not progressing as expected.” When you throw those reports in with Stephen Holder’s, explaining that Luck will not be practicing this week and that there is still no timetable for his return, you’re looking at a pretty awful situation.
Every week that he misses practice pushes back his possible return. Following the expectations the team has shared, we already know that the earliest anyone can expect that he would return to practice is a week from Wednesday. This assumes that the visit to the doctor is positive and that the soreness gradually or suddenly dissipates over the course of the week.
In this best case scenario, Luck would return to practice prior to Week 10. Let’s assume that, after missing three or more weeks of not practicing, Luck will require three weeks of practice to be prepared for a game. That makes the most optimistic return date Week 12 at home against the Titans.
The problem is that many fans, including myself, have been thinking about things in these terms. Week 12 would become the new target and hopefully signal a return to winning football.
But that’s not likely.
It is more likely that Luck’s progress is simply not going as well as he everyone would have liked. When this all started we knew that there were varying time tables, depending on the severity of his shoulder injury and the complexity of the surgery performed. We also urged fans to temper their expectations and relied on numerous sources to explain that the longer end of this recovery could be closer to a year than six or seven months.
PhysioDC provided a step-by-step look into the recovery and offered the following realistic timetable.
Realistically, many patients are looking at 9 months to 1 year of total recovery time before they feel “normal” again.
It’s natural to think that world class athletes will recover faster than “normal.” It’s also natural to think that world class athletes have access to the best surgeons in the world, whose work will likely result in shorter recovery times. Unfortunately, no matter who the surgeon is and no matter how athletically gift a player might be, the long-term projections can apply to anyone.
At this point, there is no reason to suspect that the soreness in Luck’s shoulder is the result of a botched surgery or a sign that his career is in doubt. It’s more likely that he has not reached his “new normal” and that he is frustrated that he is still experiencing soreness after over nine months of rehabilitation. If his return to practice is delayed by another couple of weeks, the team really has to consider shutting him down for the year.
It’s not that a Week 14 return wouldn’t be exciting for Colts fans or that the team shouldn’t play its best player if he is healthy. It is more that Indianapolis needs to begin preparing for 2018 sooner rather than later. That means considering which pieces might be worth trading before the off-season and getting a really good look at which young players will be a part of this franchise’s future. Maybe it means allowing Brissett the opportunity to get more experience — either to stay as the Colts backup or to build trade value.
Whichever direction this thing breaks, the Colts are likely to make a decision relatively soon. Whatever Luck learns from the doctor’s in the next couple of days will likely result in some kind of rehabilitation or practice plan and timetable. If the doctor says everything looks great, Indianapolis could have its franchise quarterback by Week 12. If the doctor suggests that Luck rest the shoulder indefinitely and check-in weekly to track his progress and monitor his pain, don’t be surprised if the teams placed him on injured reserve.