KRAVITZ: Luck has dealt with pain, guilt and frustration, but finally sees hope in his shoulder recovery

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck talks with the media on Monday, April 9, 2018.
Bob Kravitz

Here is what I heard Monday from Andrew Luck: I heard a lot of hope, a lot of joy at the fact he's returned to the locker room and rejoined his teammates, that he's on pace to start throwing a football - a real, honest-to-goodness regulation-sized football - no later than the start of training camp.

I heard this, too: A lot of guilt.

Guilt that his injury forced him to miss all of last season. Guilt that he wasn't available for his teammates, for his franchise and for his adopted city. Guilt that he skipped some rehabilitative steps along the way, failures that may have set him back even further.

No, he doesn't flat-out blame himself for what has happened, the fact that we're more than a year out from his shoulder surgery and he still doubts that he'll throw a real football before training camp begins in August. But there's a nagging sense of guilt that he didn't always follow the blueprint for recovery. He wanted back, and still wants back, worse than any fan can ever imagine, but the human body works on its own timetable, and not the timetables we establish for it. So he pushed it, even coming back and throwing casually last fall before he had to be shut down for the season.

"I guess there's a certain amount of guilt I've lived with for having not played this past year, not being there for the team," Luck said. "I know it sounds kind of corny and cheesy, but it was very difficult. I put a lot of my self-worth into being available for this team and being the best I could be for this team - maybe not the healthiest thing in the world to do. And when I wasn't available and couldn't help the team and felt like I was being a distraction, that was hard for me to handle."

He continued. "…I think I pushed a little too hard on certain things and didn't give the requisite amount of time for certain things to happen. Your body, I learned, will tell you 'no' in certain ways and you've got to listen to it. You can't force things to happen, and I forced things to happen, which I paid for…"

When he was asked if it's been tough to resist the temptation to pick up a football and start winging it, he interrupted. "Yes, it is," he said repeatedly. "What I've learned about myself is that I'm quite impatient as a person and it's gotten me to place that maybe I shouldn't have been in the first place. I don't want to repeat those missteps. Some things take time and I've learned that. When I have the urge to do something silly, I talk to myself and say, 'It's not worth it.'"

It's not something for which he should be exposed to criticism. If anything, he wanted to come back too quickly, too desperately. Anyway, he's criticized himself enough for it already. He's never had a major injury before. He's a young guy, still south of 30, and when you're that age, a good portion of your self-image is wrapped up in what you do and how well you do it. Luck is a well-rounded young man - he rolled out an Ernest Hemingway "Old Man And The Sea" reference Monday - but for years, he's been viewed as the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since John Elway.

This is who he is.

And when he couldn't do it for an extended period of time, when there may have been internal questions about his future, it was devastating. I can still remember the last time we spoke to Luck at the end of last season and he was asked about the darkest time during this extended process. Luck, a notoriously private person, gave a small glimpse into his soul, choking back emotions as he answered the question. I can also remember the photo that circulated during his recovery, a skinny Luck holding up a couple of Book Club selections and looking like he'd just whipped up a batch of moonshine. How much had he lost? Thirty pounds? More?

We all want to know when he's going to start throwing a regulation-sized football - not a weighted ball, not an undersized ball, but a regulation ball - and we want to know the answer now. And I understand - shoot, Luck understands - why everybody wants an immediate answer, especially after all this time. It's frustrating and it's unsatisfying…and there's nothing anybody, least of all Luck, can do about it. I heard so much about "The Process" Monday, I thought I was listening to former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie.

But that's all there is. The process. Day by day, week by week.

Luck said he knows the timetable, knows when he's going to be able to throw once again, but that's not a timetable he's willing to share with anybody outside of the building. All he knows, or thinks he knows, is that he's going to be back.

"I'm not a perfect-feeling athlete, so there's still a focus on me to make sure that I can feel really, really good and then be unbreakable," Luck said. "I don't want to put myself in a situation where this can happen again, and then have to go through this again and again.

"…Progress has been my guiding light and that's all I've done the last three, four months. If I wasn't making progress, it would freak me out and we'd have to change something, but I am (progressing). I wish I could put a fast-forward button on it and skip steps, but that's unrealistic and that wouldn't be good."

He hears what you're saying - We've heard this all before - and he understands the skepticism completely.

"I've been a fan and watched guys and didn't understand why someone wasn't out there or where they were or why they couldn't give more information on it," he said. "I appreciate (fans') patience. I do appreciate the perspective people have on this situation. Shoot, I sit here and watch the Gordon Hayward saga. I understand the frustration but I would personally just ask for patience. I know, deep in my heart, that I'm going to be OK."

I'm not as worried about Luck, honestly, as I am with the state of the team Chris Ballard is going to put on the field next season. The Colts came into the offseason with $77 million in cash to spend on free agents, and they ended up walking away with the likes of Matt Slauson, Denico Autry and some other lesser lights who are nobody's idea of a game-changer.

The Colts are heading into the NFL Draft in need of an improved offensive line. They did almost nothing in free agency.

The Colts are heading into the NFL Draft in search of a No. 1 running back. They did almost nothing in free agency.

The Colts are heading into the NFL Draft in dire need of a No. 2 wide receiver to pair with T.Y. Hilton. They did almost nothing in free agency.

The Colts are heading into the NFL Draft with holes at almost every conceivable position. They did almost nothing in free agency.

So there are a million questions with this franchise, but the biggest one, the one relating to Luck, is close to an answer. Like Santiago, the Cuban fisherman in "Old Man and the Sea," Luck has spent months chasing his goal of fully recovering and returning to the football field. It hasn't come without pain and self-doubt, but he can feel the marlin tiring, and is readying for the greatest catch of his life.

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