Andrew Luck

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck throws during mini-camp practice Tuesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Reich was the first to know.

The Colts' first-year head coach had joined quarterback Andrew Luck for a workout at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center a few weeks ago. When the sparsely attended session ended, Luck spotted "The Duke" — the official NFL game ball — laying in the corner of the team's indoor facility.

"Hey, what do you think?" Luck asked. "Let's just pick this up and throw this around a little bit."

So the two quarterbacks who authored the largest comebacks in playoff history — Reich overcame a 32-point deficit with the Bills in 1993, and Luck climbed out a 28-point hole with Indianapolis 21 years later — played a solitary game of catch.

It marked the first time Luck had thrown a football since shutting down his rehab from right shoulder surgery last October. And Reich was sworn to secrecy.

Luck spilled the beans Tuesday after throwing publicly for the first time during the opening practice of the Colts' three-day mandatory mini-camp.

Reich smiled in mild embarrassment while admitting he hadn't been completely honest with the media over the past few weeks. He was respecting his quarterback's wishes.

And he easily rationalized the white lie.

"It really wasn’t a workout," Reich said. "That was how I justified it in my mind."

It's a good bet the fan base will forgive him.

Luck threw 20-odd passes — mostly within 5 to 10 yards — during individual drills and warmups on Day 1. Most of his tosses were caught by the team's equipment guys. But a few special throws between drills went to volunteer wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne.

It was just another progression in a grueling process that began 18 months ago with what was described as "routine" surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The injury limited him in 2015 and caused him more pain than was previously revealed throughout the 2016 season. It sidelined him all together last year.

That's why the distant video shot by reporters at the start of practice went viral on social media. There was a palpable buzz as the 28-year-old's recovery finally took its first baby steps into the on-field stage.

"It’s another step, no bigger, no smaller than any of the other ones," Luck said. "I am thrilled with how this offseason has gone for me. I’m really, really excited. I know you guys don’t see me every day, we don’t talk that much, but a lot happens every day, every week that makes me feel really, really good — one, not only about myself, but also what this ballclub is doing."

The quarterback has finally found a rhythm this offseason.

His workouts have been set up to simulate the regular season — throwing for three straight days, taking one off and then coming back with a heavy throwing session that stands in for game day each week.

It's a pattern he plans to follow throughout training camp. So there will be practice days in which he's not scheduled to participate. One of those will come Thursday on the final day of mini-camp.

The aim is to train the shoulder for the workload he'll handle throughout the season, and to make that process as consistent as possible.

"That’s the sort of big picture I’m preparing for, and the goal certainly — more short term — is to be ready to go for training camp," Luck said. "To be able to not just participate, but get better, get the team better. Go and see what we can make this year’s Colts."

Indianapolis is coming off a 4-12 season and has missed the playoffs for three consecutive years.

The AFC South showed tremendous improvement last season with both Jacksonville and Tennessee qualifying for the postseason and winning at least one game. The Jaguars made the AFC Championship Game and led New England at halftime before falling 24-20.

There's also high hopes in Houston, where second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson and all-world defender J.J. Watt are expected to return from injury.

Taken all together, it's increased the degree of difficulty for a Colts with team rookies at head coach (Reich), offensive coordinator (Nick Sirianni) and defensive coordinator (Matt Eberflus).

But with Luck under center, all things seem possible.

"Of course having Andrew on the field, I mentioned it before, things change," Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "When you have that guy on the field, everyone knows you’ve got a chance, and the sky’s the limit."

There's still a ways to go, but Luck's full-time return has never felt closer.

Reich has been impressed with the progression the quarterback has shown as the frequency and intensity of his workouts have increased. And he expressed a high degree of confidence Luck can play at a level similar to his three-time Pro Bowl form.

The quarterback himself still is promising to be better than that.

As he said throughout his failed comeback attempts last year, he believes this whole process will make him a better player, a better teammate and a better quarterback.

And he has no doubt he'll be on the field Sept. 9 when the Colts open the regular season against Cincinnati at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"No knock on wood," Luck said. "I’m going to be there. I’ll be playing. I believe it in my bones."

Trending Video

THB sports editor George Bremer has covered the Indianapolis Colts since 2010. He occasionally sports a beard that can rival Andrew Luck's, but he lacks arm strength and durability.