Colts’ confidence in Luck was reason for draft swap

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard keeps responding to the same old questions about Andrew Luck with the same old answers.

No, he’s not concerned. Yes, Luck’s recovery remains on track. And, of course, Ballard expects to see his star quarterback taking snaps this season.

Now Ballard is doing more than just talking. He’s actually building his draft strategy around Luck’s expected return from a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

“We traded the third pick of the draft to move back to six,” Ballard said Friday. “I thought that said we were pretty confident with where he’s at.”

Last month, Indy swapped first-round picks with the New York Jets and added two second-round picks this year and another in 2018.

There are plenty of reasons for doubts about Luck’s status, though.

He still hasn’t started throwing full-size footballs and there’s no indication he will participate in any of the Colts’ offseason work. The last time Luck threw a regulation ball was in October — until lingering soreness forced him to be shut down and seek additional medical opinions before moving his rehab to Europe.

The problem then, Luck has said, was he tried to expedite the recovery. Instead, it cost him the rest of the season.

If he starts Sept. 9 against Cincinnati, as hoped, it would mark the first time he’s played in 21 months — and the first time since Ballard accepted Indy’s job in January 2017 that he’s actually seen Luck in uniform.

Again, Ballard declined to provide a projected timetable for Luck’s expected progression.

To critics, all this sounds familiar. It’s the essentially the same commentary Ballard provided 12 months ago. This time could be different.

“A lot of the exercises he’s doing are conducive to the same thing (throwing),” Ballard said. “I think it (a setback) would have shown up with the work he’s doing from a strength standpoint, absolutely.”

So far, the prognosis is promising.

This month, Luck said he felt better, was in a better place mentally and was confident he will be better when he comes back.

Teammates like Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton and longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo say they also have detected changes.

“I think he realizes that all he’s got to worry about is getting back,” Castonzo said Tuesday. “He doesn’t have to worry about what anybody else is thinking about it and any of the outside noise because he’s doing absolutely everything and more to get back. And I think he realizes that and is able to be at a little bit more peace with it.”

But the most encouraging news might be Ballard seems content with either of his two game plans — playing Luck or using Jacoby Brissett until Luck returns.

It’s the reason Ballard has continued to turn down trade offers for Brissett and why he may be willing to move down again in the first round next Thursday.

Ballard said the Colts have deemed eight nonquarterbacks as premium players, enough to give them some flexibility if the right offer is made.

“When you see someone that may be a future Hall of Famer, those guys are hard to pass up,” Ballard said. “That’s why going back, the compensation would have to be right. And then we’d have to identify guys in the same general area that we think we could get at six.”

The good news for Indy is most analysts expect as many as four quarterbacks to go in the top 10 and could make their pick a key chip in the NFL’s annual poker game.

And if Luck actually is healthy, Indy could hit the jackpot for the second time in the draft.

“Right now, none,” Ballard said when asked if he’s gotten any calls about the No. 6 pick. “It will start next week. I think you have to look at the quarterbacks. I don’t know that anyone knows what’s going to happen except maybe (Cleveland GM John) Dorsey. The first couple hours will be fascinating just to see how the quarterbacks peel off.”

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