A lacerated kidney and 307 days later, Andrew Luck is ready to return

INDIANAPOLIS -- The final step in a journey that started some 10 months ago will take place late Sunday afternoon when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck dawns his uniform in a regular season game for the first time since Week 9 last season.

Luck will officially be back then.

His unofficial return came during offseason workouts in the spring. Second-year receiver Phillip Dorsett, whose playing time with Luck has consisted of just five games, noticed something about Luck, and it had nothing to do with his beard or slimmer physique.

"The zip on his ball had changed," Dorsett said. "It was coming at you."

That's what Luck, and just as important, the Colts need from the quarterback. They need the confidence that allowed him at times to single-handedly put the franchise on his back and carry them. They can no longer have the injured Luck, the turnover-prone Luck, and the inaccurate Luck taking snaps from the center.

Luck, in only the way Andrew Luck can, downplayed returning to form in the offseason.

"I never viewed it that way," he said. "I just try to get better every day and there was no revelation at any moment. It was just kept feeling better and better and in a good spot certainly now."

Luck can shy away from talking about his return, but his teammates noticed a different player. They noticed a player who missed being on the field taking every meaningful snap last season, one who dealt with adversity in the form of injuries for the first time in his NFL career. He missed nine games while dealing with a lacerated kidney, rib, shoulder and abdomen injuries.

"He's happy back to be playing football," running back Frank Gore said. "I saw that in OTAs. You could tell he missed it. I know it hurt him that he wasn't there with us for nine games. I feel like the game that you love gets taken away and you get the opportunity to get it back, you're going to get it back. You're going to be excited. You're going to be hungry.

"Can't wait for the first game for him to start to prove a lot of people wrong, even though I know he probably doesn't listen to it, but we're all human. We hear things they say. He's happy to be back and ready to go."

The Colts stayed in the playoff race until the final week of the season last year. Part of that was because they played in one of the worst divisions in the NFL -- the AFC South -- and the other part is because Luck's primary backup, Matt Hasselbeck, was one of the league's feel-good stories. At 40 years old, Hasselbeck led the Colts to a 5-3 record as a starter.

But there's a different feeling with Luck under center. He's more vocal and the fire is back on the offensive side of the ball. There's also the belief that the Colts can compete with any team in the league as long as Luck is on the field.

"It was very different [without Luck last season]," receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "He makes things so much easier for us. Having him out there means a lot. The things he's able to do communication wise, getting guys open, I think nobody compares to it."

The ultra-competitive Luck was able to take a step back and re-evaluate things while out last season. He, along with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer, observed a player that needed to get back to improving some of his fundamentals. Luck and Schottenheimer watched and analyzed the quarterback's footwork on his drop backs in offseason workouts, in practice and in games over and over again breaking down the positives and negatives of it.

"It's just attention to detail, being very deliberate and intentional about where his feet are, how he sets himself up, how he takes a hitch in a seven-step drop, staying balanced and all those things that a quarterback is supposed to look like and that footwork is supposed to look like," coach Chuck Pagano said. "He does a great job and Brian does a great job with him."

Remember the zip on the ball Dorsett was referring to with Luck?

It was evident in the preseason. Luck was 21-of-25 throwing during his limited action.

"He looks like he has from Day 1 from when I came here," offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "You watch him in all those things. Not just the physical parts of it, but also him taking charge and how he does in the decision making and the things on the field and how quickly he gets things and sees things out there."

And that's why the Colts have that feeling that they can win with Luck on the field.