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With the NFL season on the horizon, the Colts are out of Luck again

Andrew Luck

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Judging by the amount of money they pay them, you know NFL teams understand you need a star quarterback to succeed long-term.

Let’s face it, there was only so much Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard could do to salvage the San Francisco 49ers season in 2018 once Jimmy Garoppolo was lost in Week 3.

There’s no question that teams need luck to prosper. And some teams need a lot of Luck.

The Indianapolis Colts are staring into the eye of a hurricane again over the health of their big man on campus, Andrew Luck.

How much do they rely on him? Luck missed the 2017 season and the Colts were 4-12 with Scott Tolzein and Jacoby Brissett. He returned to full glory in 2018 and threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns for a 10-6 team that won a Wild Card game. He was the NFL’s comeback player of the year.

Here’s the current problem: If you ask the Colts right now if they think Luck will be able play Sept. 8 when they open the season in Los Angeles against the Chargers you will not be able to get a straight answer.

“We’re 3½ weeks away from the regular season, I’m not ready to say,” said Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Tuesday.

For the longest time, the Colts hadn’t been able to put their finger precisely on what’s wrong with Luck. They’d been working on the assumption he had something wrong with a calf, something first diagnosed in March. But now, that’s kind of morphed into a possible high left ankle sprain, which is much more problematic.

“From the start we’ve been dealing with a calf injury,” said Ballard. “The injury wasn’t getting better and he hadn’t been practicing, so in the course of dealing with the calf injury, it appears that now we have an ankle issue.”

You can’t overestimate how important Luck is to the Colts. He pats the offense on the head, tells it it’s going to be OK and then decimates defenses. Brissett got his start mirroring Tom Brady in New England, but he was no American idol by the time Bill Belichick shipped him to the Colts.

Brissett, who started 15 games in 2017, is a caretaker, sort of like Ryan Fitzpatrick has been his entire career. He is a game manager, not a game changer. If he has to play for an extended period of time, the prospects for the Colts to overtake the Houston Texans in the AFC North seriously diminish.

All the Colts can do at this point is be patient. They will not risk playing Luck in the preseason, but then again, he likely wouldn’t have seen a lot of action anyway, even after missing all of the team’s OTAs and spring camps.

Luck’s in pain even when he’s not doing football stuff. He will spend his time with the trainers, mostly off his feet, the Colts finger-crossing time will make him better.

“Once we get (the pain) under control, I think we can really move forward,” said Ballard. “There’s no question he had a calf [injury]. But the lower part is more of an ankle issue. We get that under control, we can help with the pain.”

Chris Ballard

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The Colts figure Luck will be able to play, even if some of the pain lingers. But a high ankle sprain is essentially one step lower than a broken ankle and the injury is extremely finicky. They have no choice but to progress with great caution.

“We think we found it,” said Ballard said. “Is there 100 percent guarantee? No, but we think we have [found it]. We’ll rehab it the way we think we need to rehab it.”

At times, it seems that Luck has had none during most of his career. The guy has a Hall of Fame arm and a Stanford brain. He began his career with three straight playoff runs, including a sprint to the 2014 AFC Championship Game. Then he hurt a shoulder in 2015 and that was followed by kidney and rib issues.

“Look, I understand the importance of Andrew Luck. He’s one of the top five quarterbacks in the league,” said Ballard. “But we also have another quarterback that we like (Brissett). To me, that’s part of building a team. You have to be able to handle when things don’t go the way you plan them out to be.”

There does seem to be a credibility problem. Since the spring, the Colts – and Luck – had issued glowing updates, promising he’d be back soon, that nothing was terribly wrong. The truth is, they really didn’t know what the extent of wrong was. And now we are approaching their second preseason game and Luck hasn’t been on the field since January’s Divisional loss at Kansas City.

Truth is, it seems the Colts didn’t want anyone to know what was going on. But as usual, a blabbermouth forced them into a corner. Team owner Jim Irsay, never the brightest bulb on the scoreboard, used the “ankle” word in an interview with SiriusXM on Monday that put the organization into a two-minute public relations drill.

“Everybody kept focusing on the Achilles, and it’s not the Achilles,” said Ballard, who then detailed how the search for the cause of the pain was expanded. “It’s led us to the front of the ankle.”

Working in the Colts favor is that Ballard has done a marvelous job of rebuilding the team under Luck. It is better equipped now to handle stress and Brissett is much further along in his development.

“I think we have a pretty good football team, we’re young, but we’ve got a good football team,” Ballard said. “We like Jacoby Brissett also. And I trust Andrew. I know he’s going to do everything in his power to get back. There’s all kinds of cases where teams win and the starter doesn’t play every game. You have to be able to put yourself in that position to do that. Things are not always going to go the way you think they’re going to go. When you get thrown a roadblock or an obstacle, you have to be able to overcome them. We have to be able to overcome them as an organization and as a team.”