The health of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck remains a concern for the Indianapolis Colts, who open the season Sunday at home against the Detroit Lions.
Luck missed nine games last season, including the final seven, after suffering a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle in a 27-24 loss to the Denver Broncos on Nov. 8. The Colts went 4-3 down the stretch without Luck but were not the same team.
Luck is back and expected to start Sunday against the Lions, but he did pop up on the Colts' injury report released Wednesday. He was listed as limited in practice with a shoulder injury.
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Luck missed two games last season with a shoulder injury. Initial media reports downplayed Luck's appearance on the injury report, but it is an obvious concern for Colts fans heading into Week 1, especially noting the other injury issues the team is battling.
“Our No. 1 corner, Vontae (Davis) is out,” Pagano said. “And Pat (Robinson) is our No. 2 (cornerback) and he's been out. Jalil (Brown) has been out. You can go on down the line, especially with Tevin (Mitchel) out. And with the chance to evaluate him, he tweaks his hamstring again (against Cincinnati in the final preseason game). Mitchel was placed on reserve/injured in the roster reduction to 53.
“We've had some line issues,” Pagano added. “There's nothing that we can do about it. We have to get healthy, and healthy in a hurry. Because the 11th is going to be here before we know it. It makes it difficult to get to that 53. We got some guys that we are hopeful that we get back.”
The Lions have their own concerns after finishing 7-9 last season, missing the playoffs and then having star wide receiver Calvin Johnson retire in the offseason.
Johnson played all nine of his NFL seasons with the Lions, teaming up with quarterback Matt Stafford to form one of the most feared quarterback-receiver combinations in the NFL. He elected to hang up his cleats in the offseason, leaving the Lions wondering what life after Megatron will be like.
Wide receiver Golden Tate will be looked to fill Johnson's shoes in part, and more pressure will be placed on Stafford, who could use of standout season to silence some of his critics. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,262 yards with 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. But he was sacked 44 times and now faces a future without his go-to weapon.
The emergence of second-year running back Ameer Abdullah also would be a blessing for coach Jim Caldwell's offense that averaged a mediocre 22.1 points per game last season. But, similar to the banged-up Colts, there are more questions than answers right now for the Lions, who are expected to be among the bottom-feeders in the NFC.
“Listen, what does buzz do?” Lions backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “There's a lot of teams that have generated a ton of buzz and stink. Eventually, you've got to go out on the field 16 times and play. So they don't give awards, you don't get into the playoffs, you don't get all that stuff and good records because people think you're going to be good or not be good.
“You've got to go play. You've got to go play. No matter what happens, you've got to go line up and play.”
Caldwell spent 10 seasons on the Colts' staff, the last three as head coach, before being fired in January 2012. He took Peyton Manning and the Colts to the Super Bowl in his first season in Indianapolis, losing the New Orleans Saints. Sunday's game will be his first at Lucas Oil Stadium since being let go.
Tate, who caught 90 passes, including six touchdowns playing alongside Johnson last season, was listed as limited with an ankle injury on the Lions' injury report released Wednesday.
Detroit tight end Eric Ebron missed a month of the preseason with an ankle injury but has returned to practice this week and reportedly was not limited.
The Lions and Colts have not met in the regular season since 2012. Indianapolis has won the last four meetings.