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Andrew Luck's April return good for Colts, locker room -- and QB himself

INDIANAPOLIS -- What Andrew Luck will be able to do when he joins his teammates for the start of offseason workouts remains a mystery. It's possible the Indianapolis Colts quarterback might not even be throwing that first week of April.

The Colts know that. The bigger storyline is that Luck will be back at the team facility, in the locker room, and around his teammates and the coaching staff again. That in itself is big for Luck and for the entire organization.

"It's not just learning a new system. He's a smart guy; he can probably learn whatever he needed to in a week," coach Frank Reich said. "But it's really about culture. It's about teamwork. It's about he's more than just our quarterback, he's a big-time leader of our team. So to be a part of that and to be part of the culture that we've talked about ... as [general manager] Chris [Ballard] and I have sat down and said, 'Hey, what are we building here? What are we building?' And obviously Andrew is a critical piece to that and his leadership at every level is important."

Ballard says he thinks Luck -- who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in January 2017 -- will progress to throwing a football at some point in April or May.

That's the boldest statement Ballard has made about Luck and his progress in the past year. The past 14 months have consisted of two things: Where is Andrew Luck in his rehabilitation and when will he return?

The thought that the 28-year-old might be nearing a return bubbled up too often around the organization last season. The Colts wondered about it during training camp, as the weeks passed by early in the regular season, and they definitely wondered about it after he started practicing with the team. The reality that Luck might not play in 2017 set in when he was shut down in October due to continued soreness in his right shoulder. Since then, Luck has traveled to the Netherlands and California to work on the physical and mental steps he must take if he's to return to a Colts team that finished 4-12 without him in 2017.

"I've preached since I've walked in the door, it's not about one guy; and I thought there were times last year where we were just ... I think we were all, everybody was just waiting for this savior to come in on a white horse and save the day," Ballard said. "I think everybody got to the realization -- that's one thing I was really proud of our team for -- they just played. Were we the best team? No, but they battled, they played and once they saw this is what it is, they just played."

It'll be good for Luck personally to be in the comfort zone of the facility. He has said on more than one occasion that not playing has worn on him mentally. He took every meaningful snap during his first three seasons after the Colts drafted him first overall in 2012, only to miss 26 games over the past three seasons because of injuries ranging from his ribs and shoulder to a lacerated kidney and a concussion.

"Is it going to help having him back in the building? Absolutely it is," Ballard said. "I think it's going to be good for Andrew to be back around his teammates. I think that's what he wants. I think that's what he misses. I think he misses being around the locker room, being around his guys. Like I said a while ago, it's one of the special things about this kid. He likes to be considered as one of the teammates.

"The only other player I've ever been around like that is [Brian] Urlacher. Urlacher, superstar Brian, he was just one of the guys, and he didn't ever want to be treated differently. He knew his status, but he never acted in that way. You never would have known. So, in terms of him being back, yeah, I think it'll be good for the organization, good for the team, good for the locker room and good for Andrew."