Tuesday, August 14th, 2018 pm31 5:50pm

Doyel: Colts QB Andrew Luck is back, he’s good and he’s giddy

Gregg Doyel Indianapolis Star
Published 4:11 p.m. UTC Aug 10, 2018
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stands on the field before an NFL football preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson, AP

This was more than fun for Andrew Luck. This was cathartic. This was Luck standing on the sideline before kickoff of the Indianapolis Colts’ 2018 NFL preseason opener Thursday night in Seattle, kickoff for his first game back in almost 600 days, and he’s not standing still. He can’t do it. He’s finding his offensive linemen and he’s bouncing off them like it’s a mosh pit, pinballing from center Ryan Kelly to tackle J’Marcus Webb to guard Quenton Nelson.

Now he’s by himself and leaping high into the air, pulling his knees above his waist, but this feels too good to do it alone. He turns and finds Kelly and bull-rushes No. 78, grabbing the “7” with his left hand and the “8” with his right. Kelly gives Luck a small smile. Luck is grinning back, leering maniacally, a jack-o’-lantern in a white jersey.

A fan base is smiling with him. This was fun – no, this was cathartic – for more than Andrew Luck. This was fun for you, yes? Cathartic? Let me tell you something, as someone whose job is watching the Colts play football: This was fun for me. Borderline cathartic, to be honest. When Andrew Luck doesn’t play, I have to watch the Colts; it’s drudgery. When he does play? I get to watch them. It’s a privilege.

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The privilege was ours Thursday night, was it not? Luck was back on the field, and yeah yeah yeah – also: blah blah blah – this was only preseason … but it was more than that, and you and I know it. The Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback either can play, or he cannot.

And he can play.

Bordering on two years since shoulder surgery wiped out his entire 2017 season and had so many people – Luck included – wondering if he’d ever play again, Luck returned to game action Thursday night and he looked good. He looked almost great, though let’s save that adjective for another day, when his play deserves it more than it did against the Seahawks, against whom he was very, very good: 6-for-9 for 64 yards, no interceptions and no touchdowns (but he set up Adam Vinatieri field goals on each of his two drives).

Luck could have been 8-for-9, but T.Y. Hilton was unable to make a pair of difficult catches, one on each sideline, one incompletion I’m putting on Luck, and the other – the second one, Luck’s final play of the night – on Hilton. The third incompletion was far and away Luck’s worst pass of the night, also to Hilton, a short route jumped by cornerback Justin Coleman, who was inches away from an interception.

So you see: Andrew Luck was not perfect on Thursday night, just as he has not been perfect through two weeks of training camp. But for his first game in almost two years, with a throwing shoulder whose rehab spanned two continents and one ocean, he was awfully, surprisingly good – same as he’s been for camp, though maybe we can drop the adverb “surprisingly” to modify the word “good” as it relates to Luck’s play. Because going forward, this is what he is. He’s back. He’s good, very good, and he’ll get better.

More than anything, Thursday night, he was thrilled. And that’s another thing we’d seen of Luck at Colts camp in Westfield, where he has seemed consistently happier than at any point in the past several years. And Luck’s not exactly Mr. Glum. But since camp began at Grand Park and Luck has been throwing “without a governor,” as he so memorably called it, he has been giddy.

On Thursday night, you saw it. Television cameras caught Luck bounding onto the field for his first drive with a big grin, not even pretending to play it cool. Been there, done that? No, Luck had never been here, never done this, never come back from a 586-day layoff that had him seriously questioning if he’d play again.

Luck stepped into the huddle and had no words. He was looking around at his teammates, looking at all the faces he had missed – all the football he had missed – and he was smiling, nodding, bobbing his head.

First play: 17-yard pass to running back Marlon Mack.

The yardage is misleading, perhaps, because the ball didn’t cross the line of scrimmage until Mack carried it there, exploding into the right flat and then up the sideline, a hint of what the Colts for years have lacked on a regular basis – and what they might lack going forward, given that Mack left the game later in the quarter with a sore hamstring. We’ll see what that means.

That play was a precursor of most of Luck’s throws, which coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni clearly designed to happen as quickly as possible. A short slant to Hilton for 8 yards. A pass in the flat to Chester Rogers, who gained 10 yards on third-and-11 before stepping out of bounds to avoid contact. No problem: Next play, fourth-and-1, Luck completes a swing pass to running back Robert Turbin for 14 yards.

After another short pass – a screen to Mack for 6 yards – Luck tries to scramble for the first down on third-and-3 but comes up short, running into Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner and being driven into the turf.

And then this happens:

Andrew Luck, injured so many times in his NFL career, out for so long after his latest surgery, rises from the turf and screams.

Yahhhh!!!

This was Luck enjoying everything about the moment, even if at this particular moment he was stopped two yards short of a first down. Luck had talked for weeks about waiting for this first hit, wanting that first hit, and here it was. He hopped up screaming and high-fiving tight end Jack Doyle, and because that wasn’t good enough, he head-butted his tight end for good measure and trotted off the field.

Best part? He’ll be back.

No, here’s the best part: He already is back.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter: @GreggDoyelStar or at facebook.com/gregg.doyel.

Published 4:11 p.m. UTC Aug 10, 2018

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