LANDOVER, Md. — Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL in his first three seasons, living up to his status as the first overall pick of the 2012 draft out of Stanford. He guided the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth in each of those years.
Four seasons later, as Luck and the Colts (1-1) get ready for a 1 p.m. game Sunday against the Eagles (1-1) at Lincoln Financial Field, he is a work in progress, having missed the 2017 campaign because of a shoulder injury.
Still, the Colts are much different team with Luck at the controls. Last year with him sidelined, Indianapolis went 4-12, its first losing season since going 2-14 in 2011, the year before Luck's arrival.
In his first game this year, Luck came out slinging, completing 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 34-23 loss to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals. During a 21-9 win Sunday over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, Luck was more like a game manager, completing 21 of 31 for 179 yards, two touchdowns but two interceptions.
Coming back from a shoulder injury, especially for a quarterback, is never easy, but Luck is encouraged by the progress.
“I feel two games in,” he said after the win over Washington. “I feel like I have come a long way from first day of training camp until now. And this team has come a long way.”
He then criticized himself for one of his interceptions.
“It was a bad read, and I can't force it in there on third down,” he said. “There were a couple of calls here and there I bungled up that put our offense in a tough situation. I feel like I am two games in and keep wanting to improve.”
Luck has faced the Eagles only once, losing by 30-27 at home on Sept. 15, 2015 when he threw for 179 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Much has changed since, and now he is on a team with few recognizable names to the non-Colts fandom.
Of course, one player the Eagles will game-plan against is receiver T.Y. Hilton, the four-time Pro Bowl selection. He has caught 12 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns and been targeted 22 times already this season.
Hilton helped seal the win against the Redskins, extending the Colts' lead to 21-9 on a 3-yard scoring pass with 7 minutes, 32 seconds left.
“This is going on our seventh year together, and I wouldn't want to play with anybody else,” Luck said of Hilton. “He does an amazing job. He's tough, He's special. He can make big plays.”
Hilton can see the improvement as Luck continues to shake off the rust.
“He is feeling better, playing better, constantly getting better. He is working hard in practice, and he comes out on Sundays and has fun and lets it rip,” Hilton said.
Another recognizable Colt to Eagles fans is first-year head coach Frank Reich. The previous two seasons, Reich served as Doug Pederson's offensive coordinator.
Reich and the Colts are attempting the difficult task of contending while working in many young players.
The Colts have a budding star safety in second-year pro Malik Hooker, last year's first-round pick from Ohio State. This year's first-round pick, guard Quenton Nelson, the No. 6 overall selection from Notre Dame, has given a much-needed boost to the offensive line. Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, a second-round pick (36th overall) from South Carolina State, has been a revelation. Against the Redskins, Leonard had 18 tackles, including one sack.
“The guy, you love him,” Reich said of Leonard.
Another key newcomer is rookie running back Jordan Wilkins, who gained 61 yards on 10 carries against Washington.
Despite the development of the young players, the Colts will go as far as the 29-year-old Luck takes them. He might not be at the point he was in 2014 when he led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and guided the Colts to the AFC title game, but his presence alone has given Indianapolis great hope.