INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano kept hoping all those offseason workouts, a full training camp and four preseason games would give him a clearer picture for 2017.
Instead, with Sunday’s season opener looming, things look even murkier.
Andrew Luck was finally activated from the physically unable to perform list Saturday, but he didn’t take a snap and hadn’t thrown to a teammate in nine months as he rehabbed from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder.
Starting center Ryan Kelly continues to miss time after having foot surgery. Safety Malik Hooker, Indy’s first-round draft pick, spent most of the offseason watching practice or on a pitch count. And that’s only part of the story.
No, this isn’t how Pagano envisioned entering a tenuous make-or-break season, but he doesn’t have a choice.
“We’re moving forward with who we have on the football team right now and who’s practicing,” Pagano said before the Colts’ preseason finale.
Luck might be practicing, but he won’t play this weekend.
On Monday, general manager Chris Ballard confirmed Luck will miss the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams and declined to say when the Colts’ franchise quarterback might be ready to play.
For the moment, that puts Scott Tolzien in charge.
“He’s smart, he understands the system, he’s got arm talent, he’s tough, he’s gritty, he’s a competitor,” Pagano said Monday. “He’s going to manage the game. We were a little conservative with him in the preseason, but we’re going to have to be able to move the ball some and throw the ball down the field.”
Hooker is expected to see limited work against the Rams, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, the Colts’ biggest free-agent acquisition, will probably start after being limited to one preseason appearance because of injuries.
The seemingly endless injury list hasn’t yet allowed the Colts to play at full strength on offense or defense, and that’s forcing the coaching staff to improvise.
“We know who our best 20 football players are and how we can use them defensively,” defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said. “It’s just up to us as a staff to figure out when we need to use those guys specifically.”
Here are some other things to watch this season:
THE HOT SEAT: No one is more eager right now than Pagano, who has not had a losing season in five years as coach.
He missed the playoffs each of the past two years, and Irsay has made it clear he expects to be back in the postseason this season. While Luck’s injury could give Pagano another reprieve, the coach would rather not have to play that card to lobby for his job.
JUST IN CASE: The Colts found some insurance for Luck on Saturday, trading receiver Phillip Dorsett to New England for backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Dorsett never lived up to the expectations of a first-round draft pick, catching only 51 passes in 2015 and 2016. Brissett, on the other hand, was impressive in a small number of appearances with the Patriots.
The trade means Indy will likely carry four quarterbacks on the active roster — until Luck gets back into game action.
GOLDEN OLDIES: At 44, kicker Adam Vinatieri heads into another season as the league’s oldest player. And last season, running back Frank Gore became the oldest player since John Riggins in 1984 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
They’re not done yet.
Vinatieri needs 57 points to pass Gary Anderson for No. 2 on the NFL’s career scoring list and 167 points to pass Morten Andersen as the league’s career scoring leader.
If Gore rushes for 1,037 yards this season, he will move into fourth all-time behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders on the league’s career list.
PEYTON’S HOMECOMING: On Oct. 8, Peyton Manning will be inducted into the Colts’ Ring of Honor — on one of the biggest football weekends in franchise history.
Among those expected to attend the game, and the Oct. 7 unveiling of Manning’s statue outside Lucas Oil Stadium, are Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. It’s a good bet that the man who drafted Manning, Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, and close friend center Jeff Saturday also will attend.