With training camp chugging along and the 2017 regular season right around the corner, NFL.com's network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
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The questions are far from over, though. That Luck's shoulder is the most important topic of the early days of Colts training camp -- and likely all the way through to the start of the regular season -- has sent an understandable shudder through fans here, prompting Luck to tell them not to freak out. Indy has missed the playoffs in two straight years. And it's stating the obvious to posit that the Colts have no chance to win even a middling AFC South and return to the postseason if Luck is not well. (Yes, despite the fact that, statistically speaking, Indianapolis faces the easiest schedule in the NFL this season.)
But there is remarkably little angst among the members of the Colts' brain trust about Luck's availability right now. The idea behind the January labrum repair was to get Luck well for the long term -- and that is, unquestionably, the correct approach with a player as valuable as this. That is why there is no conversation about pushing the pace of his recovery.
Luck believes -- and the hope among the Colts is -- he will be better than ever when he is fully recovered. His shoulder was a constant source of concern and management last season, despite the career-high completion percentage of 63.5 and the career-long yards per attempt (7.8). He missed or was limited in practices all last season, and there were times when the velocity of his throws was noticeably diminished. But the initial hope that Luck would be fully recovered in six months was overly optimistic. While the team says he hasn't experienced any setbacks, he will probably be rusty (at best) and without much practice time when the regular season begins.
When he reported to camp on Saturday, Luck would not commit to being ready for the season opener, although new general manager Chris Ballard said he expects Luck will be off the physically unable to perform list by the time the season begins Sept. 10. He said Luck's rehab is now about regaining his strength and his throwing motion. Luck would say only that he started throwing a tennis ball a couple of days ago, but he would not answer when asked if he is throwing a football.
Luck watched the Sunday practice in front of fans, but back at the training facility -- where no fans are permitted -- Luck stays out of view during practice, leaving the work to his backups, primarily Scott Tolzien.
"You're never comfortable with nobody getting any work," head coach Chuck Pagano said after Monday's practice. "Andrew would be the first to tell you he needs to work, we all need to work. You want your guys out there, whatever the case is; whatever we get, we get."
The reality is that even if the Colts have 75 percent of the normal Luck, that is probably better than any alternative. It is early -- Indianapolis practiced in pads for the first time on Tuesday and still has more than five weeks until the regular season begins -- but it is already apparent the Colts are not in the same position as they were in 2015, when Matt Hasselbeck started eight games in relief of Luck. If there is a silver lining to how much practice time Luck missed last season, it is that Tolzien got many more repetitions than a backup normally would. Still, it is probably telling about the Colts' internal expectations for Luck's availability that they did not sign a veteran quarterback as a safety net if Luck cannot play in the season opener against the Rams.
With Luck out, the focus has fallen to the pieces around him. Since his hiring in January, Ballard has enacted an extreme makeover of the roster, particularly the defense, where as few as four starters from 2016 could return. Last season, the defense ranked in the bottom third in the league in many categories, including total yards, scoring defense and takeaways. The Colts had just eight interceptions in 2017.
One of the themes of training camp is ramping up the physicality of the team. Pagano spent a few minutes with the defensive backs on Monday, exhorting them to get more physical with receivers. But Tuesday, with pads on, there was an uptick in hitting. On one play, receiver T.Y. Hilton and corner Vontae Davis scuffled -- and shortly after, Tolzien hit Hilton on a quick slant at the pylon for a touchdown. Hilton threw the ball in the air in celebration.
"There's a certain perception about certain teams and maybe positions," Pagano said, referring to the reputation of his defense for being soft. "We don't listen to or read what you guys write or talk about. But you've got to be physical at any position. We're challenging wide receivers to play without the ball, blocking downfield in the run game. And we're challenging defensive backs to make plays, to take the ball away and get 12 out there. If you don't practice that way, you're not going to flip a switch."
Ballard, though, left the offensive line alone, a signal that the Colts believe their most maligned unit -- it gave up 44 sacks last season -- might have finally turned a corner in the second half of last season. This is the first time since Luck arrived that the same five offensive linemen will start in front of him two straight seasons, crucial at a unit where continuity and communication is paramount. To improve communication, the Colts have opened camp by flipping the guards, putting veteran Jack Mewhort at right guard next to second-year tackle Le'Raven Clark, with second-year guard Joe Haeg moving to left guard next to left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
The hope is that the Colts can better insulate Luck from the hits that have caused him to miss 10 games in the last two seasons, and to assure this long recovery is his last.
CAMP NOTES FROM AROUND THE REST OF THE LEAGUE
ARIZONA CARDINALS: Palmer's prep. If the Cardinals are going to work themselves back into playoff contention, they'll need quarterback Carson Palmer to return to the Pro Bowl form he displayed in 2015. That Palmer threw 35 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in helping the Cardinals win the NFC West and reach the conference title game. The one who showed up last season threw 26 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, and too often reminded critics of his flaws during a 7-8-1 campaign. The Cardinals are hoping that a less strenuous offseason -- Palmer cut back heavily on the time he spent throwing passes during workouts away from the facility -- will help improve the quarterback's production. Head coach Bruce Arians also pointed out that Palmer showed late in the season that he still has something left in his tank, as Palmer threw 11 touchdown passes against just three interceptions over the final five games of 2016.
"All we need," Arians said, "is for Carson to be the player he was last November and December."
» Fitz's finish line.Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald knows the question comes with the territory. The older he gets -- he turns 34 on Aug. 31 -- the more people are going to talk about the possibility of his retirement. The only problem is that Fitzgerald says he's not quite ready to go there. He's admitted to discussing the topic with peers to get an idea of how they handled the later years of their careers. What he hasn't done is let his 14th NFL season become a time when he accepts the possibility of slowing down. Even Arians said, "It's hard to get him to appreciate the importance of taking a day off." Said Fitzgerald: "I end up talking about retirement because people keep bringing it up with me. It's like there's some magic number that makes people think it's time to quit. I'm still focused on what I have to do here."
» Hall pass for Warner's induction. There won't be any controversy with a current player getting the time off to attend quarterback Kurt Warner's Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on Saturday. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who played with Warner in Arizona, has been excused to attend Warner's big day. Team president Michael Bidwill also will attend the ceremony.
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Of course, that could be because the 21-year-old Garrett listens to Dean Martin, one of the original Rat Packers and the "King of Cool." Martin died four days before Garrett was born, prompting someone to ask Kirksey if he ever before had had a teammate listen to Martin.
"No," he said.
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DALLAS COWBOYS: The trials of Taco. First-round draft pick Taco Charlton is very much in the figuring-things-out phase in his transition to the NFL, according to coaches. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said that he loves the defensive end's physical attributes and effort, but there is a major learning curve for a player who will be relied upon for pass-pressure right away.
Using his hand in a gesture to show Charlton's progress, he moved it forward, in a flat line, then added, "It's not going in this direction (down), but it's not going [up]."
Head coach Jason Garrett said that for any player, especially a rookie, the key is to keep building. Garrett cited LT Tyron Smith's practice struggles against DeMarcus Ware early in his career. Smith had the physical gifts, but also had the mental toughness to not worry about what happened previously and improve on what was being coached. Now Smith's arguably the best left tackle in the NFL.
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DETROIT LIONS: Big expectations for new faces? Every team tries to find bargains on free agents who might've been underutilized in another team's scheme, and the Lions think they got one in defensive tackle Akeem Spence, who signed a three-year, $9 million deal in March after four seasons with the Buccaneers. Spence has impressed early in camp and seems an ideal fit for the Lions' one-gap, get-upfield style of play.
The Lions paid up to improve the right side of their offensive line through free agency with veteran guard T.J. Lang and tackle Ricky Wagner. General manager Bob Quinn's approach on defense in his second offseason revolved around volume and competition -- he also signed cornerback D.J. Hayden and linebacker Paul Worrilow to one-year deals in the $3 million to $4 million range and used his first two picks on linebacker Jarrad Davis (No. 21 overall) and cornerback Teez Tabor (No. 53).
Getting bang for the buck on a guy like Spence, still just 25, is exactly the sort of move Quinn's old bosses with the Patriots would be proud of.
» Injury updates in Detroit. A number of key veterans were spectators when the Lions began padded practices Tuesday. But the only one expected to miss regular-season time is left tackle Taylor Decker, who's on schedule in his recovery from June shoulder surgery. (He's unlikely to play before at least October.)
Versatile running back Theo Riddick is wearing a red no-contact jersey in practice, but that's just a precaution so nobody unnecessarily hits him on his surgically repaired wrists. Tight end Eric Ebron's hamstring tweak isn't thought to be significant. And as for end Ziggy Ansah, remember that he had two high ankle sprains last season as his sack total plummeted from 14.5 to two. No point wearing him out early in camp -- he's expected back sometime in the preseason.
» Lions looking for a run game. One of the major questions facing the Detroit Lions involves fixing a running attack that ranked 30th in the NFL last season. That ground game took a hit with Decker's shoulder surgery, but coach Jim Caldwell is encouraged by some other pieces in the mix. Caldwell is most excited about what third-year running back Ameer Abdullah can do after missing 14 games with a foot injury last season.
"Every time Ameer was on the field for us, we were around 100 yards," Caldwell said. "It's not a question of whether we have the talent. We do. And it's not just him. We've added some people on the offensive line, like [right guard] T.J. Lang and [right tackle] Rick Wagner, who can help. I think you'll see our running game become steadier. We're not going to line up in the I-formation and run it 40 times because we don't want to take the ball out of our quarterback's hands. But if we can stay around the 100-yard mark every game, we'll be all right."
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Packers coach Mike McCarthy told me there will be a definite increase this season in what he calls "eight-gap offense" -- alignments with two tight ends on the line of scrimmage. That forces opponents, who normally play subpackage defense around 80 percent of the time, to account for eight gaps in the run game when most of their assignments account for seven, while maintaining the flexibility to move one or both tight ends before the snap and create mismatches that way, too.
"Hey, there's two ways to throw the ball -- action passing game or dropback," McCarthy told me. "You want to have both of them on first and second down, in legitimate threats, too. Because when the defense can just come out and play run and pass all day on you, they're playing faster than you are before the ball's snapped."
McCarthy always feels the Packers offense is at its best when it's balanced. Just the threat of running can open things up on the back end for Aaron Rodgers, and the Bennett/Kendricks combo is one way (along with the development of converted receiver Ty Montgomery, whom McCarthy is high on, at running back, along with three rookie backs) they think they can create it.
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OAKLAND RAIDERS: One rookie rising from seventh-round obscurity. The Raiders drafted cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu in the first and second rounds, respectively. Yet, the young player who has stood out with his ball-hawking skills is seventh-round selection Shalom Luani. Luani is someone with great ball skills, which is why the safety has looked good in non-padded drills this spring and summer.
Luani was drafted late because he missed a lot of tackles at Washington State. If he shows the willingness to be consistently physical when the pads come on and to improve his tackling skills, then the Raiders might have landed some crucial depth for a secondary in which the team has heavily invested.
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Antonio Brown's grand entrance in a chauffeur-driven, burgundy 1931 Rolls Royce generated more attention on Steelers' arrival day. So, too, did veteran linebacker James Harrison's, on a fire truck with its sirens blaring. But it was Ryan Shazier's explanation for his ride that maybe made the most sense.
The fourth-year linebacker brought a bright, bright (bright) blue Porsche Panamera to camp at St. Vincent's College. Originally black, the car is covered in a wrap officially dubbed "Miami blue," a selection, Shazier said, that required little debate.
"When it's gray and gloomy here in Pittsburgh, I look at my car and it makes me think of sunshine," the Florida native said. "It's cheerful."
(That's one word for it.)