Sports

With Luck on mend, Colts get back into AFC South chase

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2017, file photo, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck throws during NFL football practice in Indianapolis. Luck’s workload is picking up at practice this week. That’s the good news for the Colts. Though Luck will miss his sixth straight game Monday night against the Tennessee Titans, the Colts still find themselves in the AFC South title mix. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2017, file photo, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck throws during NFL football practice in Indianapolis. Luck’s workload is picking up at practice this week. That’s the good news for the Colts. Though Luck will miss his sixth straight game Monday night against the Tennessee Titans, the Colts still find themselves in the AFC South title mix. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck may be getting healthy at just the right time for the Indianapolis Colts.

He's throwing harder, longer and more frequently than he did just a week ago. And on Thursday, for the first time since having off-season shoulder surgery, Indy's starting quarterback could sense the rehabilitation process was nearing its end.

"I think we're progressing along nicely," he said before practice. "But I think it would be foolish to get this close to the finish line and then skip a step."

Luck wouldn't provide a potential target date for his return to game action.

All along, coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Chris Ballard have insisted they would play it safe with Luck.

Now, though, things are ramping up.

From the moment Luck had surgery in January for a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder until last week Luck never threw to a receiver. That changed Oct. 4 when he started throwing some short passes.

By Thursday, Luck was throwing passes of 30 to 40 yards during the open portion of practice.

This week's plan is to ease Luck into seven-on-seven drills where he is expected to take snaps with the scout team.

"He'll have a specific route tree and pitch count, sort of like he had last week," Pagano said. "So it will be scripted to fit what we've designated as those throws. So that'd be, say for instance, a bunch of play-action passes."

The timing couldn't be better for Indy (2-3) .

Even with Luck missing the first five games, the Colts have stayed close in the AFC South. They're tied with Houston and Tennessee, one game behind division-leading Jacksonville.

All three of Indy's losses came to NFC West teams, and the Colts play their first division game Monday night against Tennessee.

Luck has already been ruled out this week, giving Jacoby Brissett another chance to show his mettle on national TV.

"You're always watching it (Monday Night Football) and now I'm playing in it, so it's kind of a bizarre feeling," Brissett said. "But we have to go out and do our job."

Brissett has been solid since being acquired Sept. 2 in a trade with New England.

But as the three other division teams contend with injuries , the Colts seem to be getting healthy for this next four-game stretch. After Monday night, Indy hosts Jacksonville then travels to Cincinnati and Houston.

Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis returned three weeks ago after missing the Colts' first three games with an injured groin.

Starting centre Ryan Kelly came back last weekend after missing the first four games with a broken foot. Tight end Jack Doyle is expected to play Monday after missing last week with a concussion and Clayton Geathers, a projected starter at safety, could start practicing next week after spending all season on the physically unable to perform list with a neck injury.

If Luck returns during this next stretch, it could be a game-changer.

"This division is pretty tight right now," kicker Adam Vinatieri said. "It's pretty interesting with only one game separating everybody and now we've got a lot of division games ahead of us. So this should start to separate some of these teams."

It's unclear how soon Luck might play.

He's been throwing every other day since returning to practice and is wearing a tracking sleeve that allows trainers to monitor his progression. Luck said he's told them he doesn't want to see the numbers, suggesting it would be more of a hindrance than a benefit.

And while he acknowledges that his arm feels different and is still "finding its way" back, the fact that Luck is even talking about a possible end to the rehab is a promising sign for himself and his teammates.

"We'll start to get into an environment where all the variables are not controlled, so that's a substantial step," Luck said before being asked if he had a timeline for his return. "I think I do. But I'm not going to give a guess on when that will be."

NOTES: Doyle, cornerback Nate Hairston (quad) and receiver Chester Rogers (hamstring) all returned to practice Thursday. ... Indy has released tight end Marcus Lucas from the practice squad. ... The Colts have promoted inside linebacker Darnell Sankey from the practice squad to the active roster, added running back Marcus Murphy to the practice squad and put receiver Krishawn Hogan (torn ACL) on injured reserve.

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