The Indianapolis Colts find themselves, for the second straight year, on the list of teams expected to bounce back and make a run at the playoffs. The Colts had the AFC South on lockdown for a long time but have ceded control to the Houston Texans for the last two seasons. Last season they found themselves in third place behind Houston and Tennessee Titans.
The biggest reason for this was an injury to Andrew Luck, before the .
Most NFL teams are not built to sustain major injuries to star quarterbacks. But the Colts' construction is particularly dangerous under Luck as it was when Peyton Manning ran the show. Manning missed the entire 2010 season after multiple multiple neck surgeries and the Colts cratered, winning just two games and securing the No. 1 pick that would net them Luck and a fortunate franchise reboot.
When Luck has been hurt, the Colts have not been as bad, but he also hasn't missed a truly extended stretch of time with his myriad injuries. Indy was also fortunate that Matt Hasselbeck guzzled a gallon of water from the fountain of youth prior to the 2015 season, helping the team stay afloat with Luck playing in just seven games.
Last season Luck played in 15 games but his effectiveness was severely limited. That he topped 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns while battling a shoulder injury that should have been operated on the offseason prior is a testament to his skillset.
Back to the problem on hand: Luck is still hurt.
The Colts announced Tuesdayon the physically unable to perform list, which is not a thing you ever want a star player placed on. Hitting the PUP list hardly means that Luck won't be ready for the start of the season, but it at least brings his availability into question.
The update from the team on Luck's health is hardly optimistic and encouraging, with GM Chris Ballard saying, "[shrug emoji]."
"I'm comfortable when our doctors and our trainers clear him and say he's ready to play," Ballard said. "Whether that means he plays in preseason or doesn't play in preseason, that's up to our doctors and trainers to tell us where he's at and for Andrew to tell us where he's at."
Ballard also said he's not worried about when Luck plays.
"I don't worry about when he plays and where he plays," Ballard said. "My concern and our concern as an organization is -- look, we're all on the same page on this. Mr. [Jim] Irsay, Chuck [Pagano] and I have all had long discussions about what's the next step. To me, the next step is getting him into practice. Then, once we get to practice, then the next step will be games."
Which is fine, except if it's later than the first week of the season or if the next stop doesn't happen for a few weeks, then all of a sudden the Colts have to be a little more concerned.
Put another way: Luck isn't throwing yet, and no one seems that concerned about the fact that he's not throwing. The Colts' season probably hinges on Luck throwing, and this should be a bigger story.
Also concerning for the Colts is the presence of first-round pick Malik Hooker on the PUP list. Again, this does not rule him out for the start of the season. The rookie could end up playing and being a dynamic, Ed Reed-like player on the back end of Chuck Pagano's defense.
But there were injury red flags for Hooker coming into the season, particularly with respect to his hamstrings. Hooker apparently tweaked his hamstring on Monday during the Colts' rookie conditioning test, which is basically the equivalent of Jim Irsay riding through the streets of Indianapolis standing out of the top of a tank and waving a giant red flag.
Add in Clayton Geathers' injury, which is likely to last into the regular season, and the Colts are now missing a pair of guys who profiled as likely starting safeties for the regular season.
Hooker and Luck could easily return to the team during the preseason, but if you're looking for omens heading into 2017, seeing both your top draft pick and most important player struggle to get healthy in time for training camp is a pretty big concern.