The day began with a team meeting where Reich and general manager Chris Ballard spoke passionately about where the franchise is headed after the shocking announcement Saturday that Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, is retiring after seven years. Luck’s locker, which sat in the middle of the locker room, was empty with all of his belongings gone, including his nameplate.
“On one hand, we can respect and honor the player and the teammate [Luck] was,” Reich said. “At the same time, we can share an excitement and an enthusiasm about the team we have going forward and the journey ahead of us. Ultimately, it’s not how good any one player is; it’s not. It’s about how good we are as a team.”
The Colts are about to find out how good of a complete team they are with Brissett, who has taken nearly all the first-team snaps since last spring, as their new starting quarterback. The team was expected to take a step forward from last season’s 10-6 record and AFC divisional round playoff appearance. Reich joked on Monday that they’ll gladly go back to taking on the underdog role again now that Luck has retired.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions,” Brissett said. “Main thing is not being able to see Andrew every day. Ups and downs, but it’s on the way up now… I was shocked (at Luck’s retirement). Then we had a long conversation. It was emotions going back and forth. You sit down with him and you understand his decision. He’s one of my good friends. It’s tough. He was like smiling at the end. That’s what helped me gain clarity and understand the situation. Seeing him smiling. I WISh him the best. We’ll talk long after our football careers.”
Brissett, receiver T.Y. Hilton and offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo were some of the few players who knew before others that Luck was retiring after suffering what the former Stanford quarterback termed Saturday as a “cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab.” Luck endured shoulder problems, bruised ribs, a lacerated kidney, a calf strain and then, most recently, pain in his ankle. He missed 26 games since the 2015 season.
Many of the Colts found out about Luck’s plan to retire during or immediately after their preseason game against Chicago once ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news Saturday. Luck spoke to his now-former teammates and coaching staff in the locker room after the game. Players said there was complete silence as Luck spoke.
“It was tough,” receiver Chester Rogers said. “That was probably one of the toughest speeches I had to endure in my career. You hate to see someone go out. It’s sad, but also happy for him because he’s going out when he wants to.”
Hilton, who was in the same 2012 draft class as Luck and was the quarterback’s favorite target throughout their time together, posted a heartfelt message on Twitter about what Luck meant to him. “It’s been very tough, that’s my best friend,” Hilton said. “It hurt me. Not going to lie. I was able to have the heart-to-heart with him. I was cool with the decision. He’ll always be with me.”
Brissett said it “sucked” that fans booed Luck as he walked off the field at the conclusion of Saturday’s game.
“You don’t want to hear that, especially for a guy like that who has done as much as he’s done, what he’s been through,” Brissett said.
The Colts will miss Luck, but the reality is they have to move forward with Brissett under center. He started 15 games during the 2017 season when Luck missed the entire year due his right shoulder injury. The Colts were 4-11 with Brissett that season, but the roster and situation are drastically different now. Brissett is in his second season in Reich’s offense, and the Colts return the same starting offensive line and key skill position players from an offense that finished seventh in the NFL last season.
Brissett, according to Reich, has taken about 1,200 reps with the first team since the spring.
“You can just feel his presence in the huddle and on the field,” Reich said. “The confidence that he’s had, the chemistry with his receivers. We all know Andrew and T.Y. had a unique chemistry and connection. I can feel that developing. That’s been very important that Jacoby has taken all those reps.”