It has been 20 long months since Andrew Luck played in an NFL regular-season game.
He’s certainly eager to get back on the field.
The 28-year-old quarterback makes his return on Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts host the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on his passing shoulder. There were times when Luck worried whether his right arm would ever return to form but those doubts have been put aside.
“I feel really good, and I’m really excited,” Luck told reporters. “I feel like I’m in shape, I feel I can make all the throws that I need to. I’d like to think that I can keep improving as a quarterback, that I can keep improving as a football player, keep improving as an athlete. I like to think this team will improve as we go through this season. But very excited.”
Luck’s return also marks the debut of new Colts coach Frank Reich.
The Colts have missed the playoffs in three straight seasons and struggled to a 4-12 mark last season.
Reich is bullish about a turnaround and he says it all starts with having a healthy Luck.
“What’s exciting for our team and our fans is that we get him for 60 minutes,” Reich said. “The longer a guy like that is out on the field, the better.”
The Bengals, who went 7-9 last season to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, are well aware of Luck’s prowess.
“His command of the offense was tremendous, knowing where they wanted the football to fit in with both their running game and passing game,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis told reporters of past meetings against Luck. “For a young player, he was very astute and ahead of the curve that way.”
Keeping pressure on Luck will be a key for the Bengals and the unit has three stellar pass rushers in defensive tackle Geno Atkins (9.0 sacks last season) and defensive ends Carl Lawson (8.5) and Carlos Dunlap (7.5).
Cincinnati also added middle linebacker Preston Brown in the offseason. Brown led the NFL with 144 tackles last season for the Buffalo Bills.
Offensively, quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green remain the center of the Cincinnati attack, but running back Joe Mixon has drawn raves entering Year Two.
The 30-year-old Dalton has topped 3,000 passing yards in all of his seven NFL seasons and has thrown 25 or more touchdown passes on four occasions.
Green posted his six career 1,000-yard receiving season last year.
Dalton does have an area of concern and it lies with the Colts unveiling a new coaching staff.
“There’s going to be something that we haven’t seen before,” Dalton told reporters. “That’s the nature of it. We only have four preseason games to go off of. With that, I’m sure they didn’t show everything. We just have to be prepared to make adjustments if we need to and move on from there.”
Meanwhile, the Colts recently traded linebacker Antonio Morrison (career-best 109 tackles last season) to the Green Bay Packers. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard is the team’s top returning sack artist (5.5).
Indianapolis could be without projected starting running back Marlon Mack (hamstring). His absence would leave rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines splitting the workload with Christine Michael. Robert Turbin is serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Cincinnati has won three of the past four meetings, including a 24-23 victory last season. Dunlap provided the winning points with a 16-yard interception return with 6:58 left against Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
—Field Level Media