Lucas Oil Stadium was so empty and quiet, you could practically hear Andrew Luck grunting as he worked on vigorous lateral exercises while Indianapolis Colts medical personnel and GM Chris Ballard examined his every step.
Luck worked up a sweat as he slid side to side while stepping over bags, planting his left foot and throwing hard.
Luck’s mysterious left calf and ankle injuries had kept him out of 12 practices, causing concern about the Colts franchise quarterback as grave as an epic summertime drought hitting Hoosierland.
Thus, media who arrived early enough before the Browns and Colts preseason game on Aug. 17 to witness this unannounced workout reported it as the story of the night. It was considered a positive twist in the ongoing Luck saga, perhaps a turning point.
Little did anyone know at the time that these would be Luck’s last passes in the enormous stadium he helped to fill on football Sundays.
On Saturday, after the Colts played their third preseason game against the Chicago Bears, Luck shockingly announced his retirement at the age of 29. He said the constant pain and the endless rehab of repeated injuries over the last four years had extracted a mental toll and taken the joy out of the game for him.
The news of this bombshell announcement was broken earlier in the day by ESPN’s Adam Schefter with Luck viewing the Colts’ game on the sideline. So fans were aware of the news as the game ended. Incredibly, they booed as Luck made his final walk off the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium – loudly enough for him to hear and make him hurt even more.
The ramifications of Luck’s abrupt retirement are immense to the immediate future of the Colts, of course. And the trickle-down has an indirect bearing on the Browns.
With a healthy Luck behind center, the Colts were a bona fide threat to the Patriots’ stranglehold on the AFC. Las Vegas sportsbooks reduced the Colts’ Super Bowl odds from 15-1 to 60-1, and reduced their projected win total from as high as 10 to as low as 6.5.
Luck’s replacement, Jacoby Brissett, is a quality guy and backup quarterback. But he would have to be special to pick up the pieces of a franchise and team understandably demoralized by this news.
I always considered the Colts a logical potential opponent if and when the Browns make it to the AFC Championship Game in the near future.
Not anymore. Luck’s retirement ultimately leaves the Browns with one less team to worry about as they climb the ranks of the AFC.
The Browns head into their final practice week of the preseason starting Monday. Here are takeaways on every position group:
Tough outings in Tampa by Baker Mayfield and Drew Stanton are no reason to pull over on the I-480 bridge. I would expect the “Battle for the Barge” against the Detroit Lions Thursday night to be left in the hands of No. 4 quarterback David Blough, who may play the entire game.
D’Ernest Johnson might have pulled ahead of Dontrell Hilliard as the No. 2 back during Kareem Hunt’s suspension. I think a more compelling question is whether fullback Joe Kerridge can make it out of concussion protocol and get in one more practice game. Opening the season with Seth DeValve as the blocking back is a little scary.
Let’s hope the sub-par performances of Rashard Higgins, Jaelen Strong and Derrick Willies in Tampa can be attributed the toll of the most rigorous 10 days of training camp – two joint practices with Colts and two road games. Otherwise, this position group isn’t as strong as we thought it was.
DeValve worked mostly in Tampa as a blocking back – partly out of necessity. David Njoku has missed two games and Demetrius Harris seemingly has hit a wall. I would expect this position group to get a new player after roster cuts.
Coach Freddie Kitchens pretty much named Eric Kush the starting right guard. But I’m not sure Kush has impressed the coaches enough to go all-in on him. Adding a starting guard after the cuts or moving a tackle inside remain slim possibilities.
The starters + end Chris Smith were a quarterback wrecking crew in Tampa. But one of the under-radar stories of camp has been the rise of tackle Devaroe Lawrence as an unmitigated force off the bench.
It was good to see Joe Schobert have an impactful game in Tampa. With all the early hype about rookies Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson, it’s obvious that the wisest thing to do is start the season with Schobert and Christian Kirksey in their familiar starting roles.
Because of the versatility of Eric Murray, Jermaine Whitehead and Damarious Randall, it’s very possible the first final roster will carry more safeties than cornerbacks. I still don’t understand why cornerbacks Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell and Greedy Williams can’t be trained to be on the field together. None of them is being prepared to play inside against a slot receiver.
Unless he makes three 50+ yard field goals against Detroit, I don’t see how Greg Joseph wins the kicking job after Austin Seibert’s 4-for-4 night in Tampa. For the first time, the biggest question about the specialists is whether the Browns will make room for returner Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi despite a tough last week at receiver. I say make room for him, for he is the only returner with the speed and instincts to electrify the entire team.