KRAVITZ: After 585 days of anxiety and rehab, Luck 2.0 returns to the NFL field against Seattle

Andrew Luck huddles up with the Colts before his first drive.

I knew Andrew Luck wouldn't know the answer, but I enjoy trying to stump Mr. I-Graduated-From-Stanford-With-A-Better-GPA-Than-You.

"Do you know how many days it's been since you played in an NFL game?'' I wondered Tuesday before the Colts embarked for Thursday night's preseason opener in Seattle against the Seahawks.

"No, I don't,'' Luck said, smiling. "You know.''

"Want to guess?'' I asked.

"No, I don't want to guess. You can tell me later,'' he said.

Five-hundred-and-eight-five days — 585 days since Luck has handed off, changed a play at the line of scrimmage, felt a defensive end's hot breath in his face, heard crowd noise, threw a pass in a real – well, preseason – NFL game.

"That's a long time,'' he said, walking away after the media availability.

Yes, Andrew, it is. It's been 585 days of pain and doubt, daily victories and daily losses, a long, difficult, emotionally wrenching 585 days. Some of those days leaving him wondering whether he'd ever play the game of football again. From Indy to The Netherlands to LA and back to Indianapolis, Luck's globe-trotting adventure has taken him to some strange places physically and emotionally, and now it moves to Seattle, where he will see his first NFL live-game action since Jan. 1, 2017.

Remember that game? Didn't think so. That was a game when Luck, who had played hurt the entire 2016 season, threw two late touchdown passes as the Colts came back to win, 24-20. Indy avoided a losing record, finishing the season 8-8. That, incredibly, is the last time we've seen Luck throw a football in a sanctioned NFL game.

So yes, he's got the jitters, just the way he had the jitters the day before his first full practice at the start of training camp. Look, he's got a lot to prove, to himself, to his team, to the NFL at large. Not that he's going to come out of the gates looking like the new-and-improved Luck he promises we'll all see in due time, but he needs to get up to game speed, needs to show he can still make the throws, avoid the rushes, even take a hit and get up unscathed.

"It'll be fun,'' Luck said. "I'll be nervous.''

The eyes of Indy, and all of the NFL, will be on Luck beginning Thursday night. Every throw, every move will be measured against what he used to do, particularly when he was healthy from 2012 to 2014. That's probably not fair – it's been 585 days, this is a new offensive system with new coaches and lots of new players – but those are the facts of Luck's life as he attempts to overcome an injury that took far longer to heal than anybody could have expected.

The point is, he's playing. And yes, there were times he wondered if this day would ever come.

"Yeah, there were one or two moments when I wondered, `Am I ever going to be able to do this again?' '' Luck said this week. "Certainly, this (preseason game) isn't what I have been working for the whole time, but sort of in the same vein, it is another step in this journey …a nd that's what's really exciting and fun.''

Fun; let's talk about fun. Anybody who has spent any time around Luck and the Colts this preseason knows this is a different Luck. He's never been dour or unpleasant, but the way he's been bouncing around, the way he's been more of an open book with the media, it's clear how desperately Luck missed all of this. Not just the game itself, but the camaraderie, the locker room, the guys with whom he works. He's always talked with such force about the joy of being part of a team, and for all intents and purposes, he was not truly part of this team in more than a year and a half. He has openly acknowledged that he now feels like he's like a little kid, putting on his Pop Warner jersey for the very first time.

"I probably struggle hiding how I feel at times,'' he said. "Whether that's sort of a positive or negative thing, whatever. I think I am a little bit happier with myself. I think it allows me to really enjoy football, and it does feel a bit more like a game to me instead of a job or a profession. I don't ever want to lose that feeling. I sort of get it when you hear guys who are in their late 30's and their 40's and they are talking about it's like playing a kid's game. I think I semi-understand what they feel in their hearts now.''

One thing, Luck's got to learn to be patient with himself, just as we – as journalists or fans – need to be patient. That's not something Andrew is famous for, patience, I mean. He is famously self-critical, quick to blame himself (even when it's not his fault) for "bonehead'' plays, engaging in self-flagellation long after the game. It's one of his more endearing qualities, but if he wants to maintain his sanity, he's going to need to understand, and I think he does, that it's not all going to come back tomorrow, or next week, or any time real soon.

"Forgiving (of myself)? I think so, actually,'' Luck said. "I don't know if I look at it that way, but I do feel like I'm a little more patient with myself, which in turn has made me a little more patient with others…which has really been positive also for my relationships, with my girlfriend, which has probably been the most positive part.''

There have been no hiccups this preseason, no setbacks, no whispers about pain or a dead arm. Everything has progressed steadily and on schedule. Day one of camp was shaky, but since then, he's gotten better every day, and at least once or twice every practice, he lets one rip in a way that reminds you that the Colts potentially have a generational talent.

Thursday is the first test. Followed by Friday, which is when we'll see how he holds up physically.

"It's how I recover, it's how I feel after practice, it's how I feel going to bed,'' Luck said. " 'How are the lifts?...How do I feel out there throwing certain routes? Did I improve?' There are certain things that are still like, `Oh, c'mon, I've got to be a little sharper there. I have got to be able to drive that ball to the sideline 30 yards.' And then there are times like, `Oh, yeah, OK, great spot, TY (Hilton), I knew the guy was coming off and I can fit that in there.' I do feel confident enough to fit that in there.''

Luck needs to be patient with himself, and he needs to be patient with this offense. The Colts are not at all deep at the receiver and running back spots, and he is going to lead a new offense (yep, another one) that he's never before operated. It's safe to assume that head coach Frank Reich will keep it simple and gives Luck some easier throws early on. Crawling before walking.

This being the preseason, Luck has loved what he has seen from his largely-unproven teammates and the offense the Colts are employing. But again, how good (or bad) is this Colts defense? What will happen when the lights come on when the Colts open at home against the Cincinnati Bengals? A lot of all-Terre Haute and all-Anderson players flinched when it was time to produce. Does Duron Carter ring a bell?

What Luck needs at this point is an offense that will take some of the pressure off him, and an offensive philosophy that remains consistent for several years. Peyton Manning had Tom Moore's offense from the beginning. For Luck, it's been a revolving door of coordinators.

"I think we are going to be able to attack defenses in a lot of different ways,'' Luck said. "I don't think (offensive coordinator) Nick Sirianni and Frank (Reich) will allow the offense to become stagnant in any way, shape or form. That doesn't mean we are chucking the ball a million times, and that the ball has to be in the air 30-plus yards every other play. We are going to be able to run the ball. We are going to be able to get the ball out of our hand and we are going to take our shots…Whatever quarterback is in there, there are a bunch of ways we are going to be able to attack defenses.''

This is a milepost for Luck. Not the ultimate milepost — that would be playing in the season opener, followed by another milepost in remaining healthy all season. Five-hundred-eight-five days is a football lifetime. The career of Luck 2.0 starts anew Thursday night.

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