WESTFIELD, Ind. — One can imagine the nerves Andrew Luck will be feeling when he wakes up Thursday morning knowing he's a mere hours away from taking the field with his Indianapolis Colts teammates for the first time in almost 600 days (585 to be exact).
The Colts travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks in their 2018 preseason opener at CenturyLink Field, but it won't be until 10 p.m. ET — or 7 p.m. in Seattle — that the game officially gets underway.
Thursday will be full of "hurry-up-and-wait" scenarios for a quarterback who's experienced so much since Jan. 1, 2017, when he led the Colts to victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in what was his last NFL game.
Wake up, grab something to eat — wait. Go to meetings — wait. Grab lunch — wait. More meetings — wait. Get on the bus and head to the stadium — wait. Get stretched out and warm up — wait. Go through pregame with the offense — wait. Head back to the tunnel to take the field — wait.
Then, finally, it's just football.
"It will be long," Luck said with a laugh. "(Gamedays) are always long, especially when you are on the West Coast and the game is 7 p.m. local. So those can be pretty long days, but I'll manage to find something to do. I am sure we will have meetings, I am sure I'll have stuff to do.
"I will be excited, I know I will," Luck continued. "I am sure I will be very nervous as well."
Those nerves were something Luck had hoped to feel last year at some point, but it never came to fruition. After undergoing surgery to his throwing shoulder early in the offseason, Luck and the Colts were optimistic that he'd be able to return for the regular season. But by early November, with the quarterback still feeling intense pain in his shoulder whenever he threw, the team shut him down for the year.
The time away from the game has produced a roller coaster of emotions for Luck. At first, he was disappointed in himself for what he felt was letting his teammates down. Then, inevitably, the doubt started creeping in.
"Yeah, there were one or two moments where I wondered if, 'Am I ever going to be able to do this again?'" Luck admitted this week.
But Luck committed to a much more stringent rehab workout plan — one that all involved hoped would not only allow the quarterback to throw the football without pain, but would get his shoulder stronger than it had ever been to ensure his long-term health.
By the one-year point post-surgery, Luck reached a major milestone, telling Colts general manager Chris Ballard he was confident he would require no further operations on his shoulder. He continued to check off the boxes in his rehab work from there, throwing weighted balls, then smaller footballs, then a high school-sized football until, finally, he started working a regulation NFL football into his workouts.
His progression continued through the team's break between mandatory minicamp in June and the start of training camp in late-July, as he worked with receivers on a variety of routes and throwing positions — dropbacks, on the run, across his body, etc.
Cleared for 100 participation in training camp, Luck enters Thursday's Seahawks game with nine full days of practice behind him; each day feeling a little better than the last one.
"There was a sense of, 'Okay, what is going to happen? How will I respond?'" Luck said in reference to reporting to camp. "And we have sort of been on these four-day blocks, as you guys know. It's sort of fun to sit at the end of a four-day block or three-day block and say, 'Wow, not only look what I got better at, look how much better I feel.'"
Now the focus, finally, shifts from Luck's shoulder to an actual game. Luck and the starting offense are expected to play about a quarter in Thursday's preseason opener, head coach Frank Reich said, and the hope is that he can carry his strong play in practices onto the field against the Seahawks and continue building momentum towards the regular season.
"Rhythm, fast and physical, get the ball out, good protection on offense. Establish that we can move the line of scrimmage, making first downs, putting the ball in the end zone," Reich said of his hopes for the first-team offense against Seattle. "Obviously, particularly for Andrew, just getting in that rhythm, feeling that juice again and getting amped up and all the adrenaline that comes and controlling that on game day."
Luck, of course, is taking a "one good play at a time" approach, as he should in a preseason opener, where the playbook is limited and staying clean is the No. 1 priority.
But that doesn't mean he can't be excited — and nervous — about checking off yet another box in his comeback.
"We have talked about this before — football is such a situational game so you don't have to force it, and force that in games. It will present itself and I think it's always fun to see how you handle those in preseason," Luck said of his goals for Thursday night. "Something inevitably will come up, whether it's the ones, twos, threes, fours, whoever that is, and that's part of the plus of preseason games is you get to work through those situational things.
"But yeah, being efficient, having one good play at a time, getting to go out there with some old buddies and some new buddies and have some fun."