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KRAVITZ: For Luck, the small and simple things make his return to practice so special

After months and months of surgery and rehab and questions and very few answers, Andrew Luck was back at practice for the first time in what feels like forever, taking baby steps back toward returning as the Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback.

Andrew Luck’s long-awaited Second Act began Wednesday in earnest. After months and months of surgery and rehab and questions and very few answers, there he was at practice for the first time in what feels like forever, taking baby steps back toward returning as the Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback. On this day, his first day back, the little things felt like the biggest things, his appreciation for the game having grown exponentially.

“It was fun to be back on a field with teammates and put a jersey on and a helmet,’’ he said after Wednesday’s practice, during which he was very limited, but did make some throws. “I know this is cliché, but you do take those things for granted. Just to put a helmet on and a jersey with a `12’ on it and go out there and warm up with the guys and throw a couple of passes, do some drills in a team setting, it was fun and more important, it’s part of me getting better and getting back into the swing of things and getting back to being a quarterback.’’

It’s been nine months since his posterior labrum surgery in his right (throwing) shoulder, and the return has been made in incremental steps. Slowly and painstakingly, he has worked the program, taken small steps each day, strengthening the shoulder and then taking part in a recent throwing program with the team’s support personnel. And it hasn’t been easy, not physically and certainly not mentally.

Athletes compete. Luck, one of the most competitive humans on the planet, could only watch and help the team’s other quarterbacks the best he possibly could.

“Certain parts have not been easy and frankly quite frustrating, especially when you’re not on the field with teammates, buddies – T.Y. (Hilton) and I were drafted in the same class – you want to feel like you’re pulling your weight,’’ he said. “In a sense, you feel like dead weight, eating up time and energy from other guys who need time and energy to go on the field and play…’’

The good news is, there’s no question Luck will play this season, and please, for the love of all things holy, don’t tell me they should shut him down this season while the team stumbles around like a bad drunk. If and when he’s healthy, he plays, and Luck said Wednesday he will definitely play this season. But ask him if he’s got a timeline for when he might be back under center in an NFL game, he’ll answer quickly, “No, no, no. That’s unfair to me. My focus now is on going to the training room and finishing my rehab session for another 30 minutes to an hour. I’ll make sure to recover, have a good day tomorrow and set up another day Friday and hopefully do more. I truly think it has to be that way or we’ll skip steps.’’

He obviously won’t play this week against the San Francisco 49ers. It won’t be next week in Tennessee. Jacksonville? Maybe. Cincinnati? Probably.

In other words, temper your expectations. Tap the brakes. It’s going to be a while before Luck returns, probably the better part of a month, and even when he does come back, he’s not likely to be the same quarterback who graced the field his first three years. Remember 2008 and Peyton Manning: He had a bursa injury in his knee and missed most of training camp. Once the season came around, he started very slowly and the Colts were just 3-4. Then Manning became Manning again, he won the MVP and led the Colts on the long winning streak.

Keep this in mind, too: This is not a very good team he’s joining. This is a team in the throes of a rebuild. He’s essentially returning to the same team he left several months ago, a team that can’t run, struggles to protect the quarterback and doesn’t defend very well. So if you’re waiting for Luck to forge some heroic second-half renaissance and lead the Colts to the playoffs, think again.

During the short practice period that is open to the media, we saw him take some snaps, work a bit on his footwork and make some very short throws. After we left, he was allowed to make several throws to his receivers, but not against defenders. Not yet, anyway.

“There’s a pitch count, a number, and we’ll keep an eye on it,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “We’ve got it scripted exactly how many throws he’s going to have and what routes he’ll throw based on each day. The depth of routes, inside breaking routes, outside the numbers, deep throws downfield, that kind of thing. Then we’ll evaluate every one of them and take it one day at a time.’’

Want more Kravitz? Subscribe to The Bob Kravitz Podcast on iTunes,Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn. If you have a good story idea that's worth writing, feel free to send it to bkravitz@wthr.com.

Said Luck: “I’ve got work to do to get to a level where I feel comfortable going out there and whipping every throw. So I’ve still got work to do. It’s part of the program…There are certain things I can do and feel pretty darned good doing them, now there’s other things I’ve got to work on.’’

In some ways, Luck must re-learn how to be an NFL quarterback. He’s not the first player to go through this process and not the last, but he found great solace and guidance during conversations with Drew Brees, who had very complicated shoulder surgery after the 2005 season and then returned better than ever.

“There are a lot of things I want to work on,’’ Luck said. “I’m still just in Year 2 of this offense, so I’ve got to make sure I’m (up to speed). Simple things like taking a snap from a center, a guy with sweaty pants on a hot, humid day – OK, I can take a snap. It’s not just the shoulder, but relearning how to use the whole body to throw again, (quarterback) drops and timing with our receivers will be vital. I’ve got a lot of things to work on and that excites me. It really does.’’

The last time we spoke to Luck was the first day of training camp, and on that day, he said repeatedly he would return as a better quarterback than he ever was before – a lofty goal given the way he played his first three seasons.

“Well, I’ve got to do it first…but I’d like to think I’ve learned some lessons on playing the position,’’ Luck said. “I’d like to think that at the end of this, I’ll have gained some perspective on how to play quarterback, what being a good teammate is like…When you’re not participating, you take a long, hard look at yourself sometimes. And you ask questions of yourself that might not bubble up to the surface if things were going hunky-dory all the time. At times, it’s not been fun, but at the end of the day, it will make me a better person.’’

Sometimes, you forget just how great Luck was those first three seasons, when he carried a sub-standard team to three 11-5 seasons, three playoff berths and three post-season victories. You forget because 2015 was so marked by injuries, and because 2016 was a statistically good, but not great season as he fought through more physical maladies.

There is still more than enough time for Luck to be the generational player everybody expected him to be when he came out of Stanford. This was a bump in the road. A large bump. “Sometimes, I wish I’d wake up and this was all a bad dream,’’ he said. “But it wasn’t.’’

He can be better than ever. He will be better than ever. But give it time. Just give it time.

Want more Kravitz? Subscribe to The Bob Kravitz Podcast on iTunes,Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn. If you have a good story idea that's worth writing, feel free to send it to bkravitz@wthr.com.