Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's big secret is finally out. He's been throwing a football for weeks—and now he's throwing in public, too.
Nearly 17 months after undergoing surgery on his injured right shoulder, Luck jogged onto the practice field Tuesday wearing a red jersey, strapping on a helmet and picking up a special ball as he started throwing in front of reporters for the first time since October.
No, it wasn't a regulation NFL ball and the longest pass he attempted was only about a 20-yard lob, but it still was progress.
"It's a lighter football," Luck said, referring to the striped football he tossed around. "It's sort of a bridge. I've thrown a real football, 'The Duke,' whatever you want to call it. I've picked it up and I've thrown it and it felt great. And honestly, there was a little mental block to doing it and I had to do it sort of by myself."
Throughout the process, the Colts have been tight-lipped about Luck's progression.
Just last week, coach Frank Reich acknowledged Luck was "real close" to throwing.
He even played "toss" with Luck three weeks ago, the first and only time he has thrown "The Duke," the standard NFL ball. Luck then swore him to secrecy, and Reich obliged the team's biggest star.
"Sorry, I confess. It really was hard for me to say that," Reich said of the continual denials about Luck throwing a football. "It really wasn't a workout. That was how I justified it in my mind."
The wait for Luck's expected return from a partially torn labrum, which kept him out all of last season, has been as agonizing for Luck as it has been for Colts' fans.
Just two weeks after he started throwing in October, the Colts shut down Luck because of what he described as lingering soreness. He changed the description Tuesday, saying the soreness was actually real pain.
Luck spent a couple of weeks seeking second opinions before heading to Europe where he continued working out until late December. He returned to the team complex just before the regular-season finale and presumably had spent the past six months ramping up to start throwing between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp in late July.
Just last week, Reich said Luck was "real close" to throwing.
Clearly, though, the second round of rehab has gone far better than the first.
"I had pain last year and then I wasn't being honest to myself about it," Luck said. "I was trying to get through pain, per se. There's none of that right now. My arm feels normal (now). Doing things feels normal."
Reich said the plan is for Luck to steadily ramp up his throwing so he can throw four times per week at camp to mimic a regular-season schedule. Even preseason appearances could be possible.
Reich and team owner Jim Irsay believe Luck will make his first start in almost 21 months when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town Sept. 9.
"I really think there are not hurdles, it's just us protecting him," Irsay said. "I think we'll go through the progression of the preseason and he'll be ready to go against the Bengals."
Skeptics note all of this has been said before.
Last August, Irsay was still saying he expected Luck to come back during the first month of the season. Instead, Luck never took a snap.
But Luck and the Colts insist this time is different, and not just because Luck is throwing earlier in the process than last season.
"I can just tell you he has looked really good in his sessions. There have been enough sessions that I have seen—with whatever kind of ball it is—it's looked good," said Reich, a former NFL quarterback who had similar surgery after his 14-year pro career ended. "There have been some throws where I would say letting it all out rip."
Luck was cautious and played it close to the vest with the nearly two dozen throws he made Tuesday.
That's also part of the plan, and one Luck believes will get his career back on track.
"I just believe I'm on the right path. I believe I'm going to be absolutely—I believe I'm going to be better than I was. I really, really do," he said. "I believe I'll be a better quarterback for this team, a better teammate."