Colts backup quarterback expects Andrew Luck to play Thursday

Matt Hasselbeck will be ready if needed, but anticipates Andrew Luck will return as the starter against the Houston Texans.

Indianapolis Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck foresees Andrew Luck returning to the starting lineup Thursday night at Houston.

While the Colts aren’t divulging much about the status of their three-time Pro Bowl starter, who missed the first game of his four-year career Sunday with a sore right shoulder, the guy who replaced him expressed his hunch, if that’s what it can be called.

“I don’t expect to play,” Hasselbeck said Monday, “but I’ll be ready in case I’m needed.”

Asked why he has that expectation, the 40-year-old backup mentioned how Luck’s hometown is Houston, where the Colts’ star played his high school football.

“Well, this is his hometown,” Hasselbeck said. “He doesn’t give me any snaps in practice. I know that if he can make it happen, he’s going to make it happen.

“Again, I’ve got to just approach it like, ‘Hey, be ready to go.’ But again, this is his team and it’s his offense. I’m the backup quarterback. That’s what you do. You just get ready to play in case, and it’s always in case.”

Hasselbeck completed 30-of-47 passes for 282 yards and one touchdown in the Colts’ 16-13 home overtime win over Jacksonville Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was the 17-year veteran’s first start since 2012, but 153rd of his career.

Luck was sidelined for the first time after 51 regular-season starts and six more in the playoffs. He helped in every way possible on the bench, communicating what he saw during the game and working with Hasselbeck as well as the offensive line.

“He was extremely helpful,” Hasselbeck said. “He was getting the crowd into it when our defense was out there on third down. He was very helpful with me. Even if he wasn’t talking to me, he was communicating stuff to the offensive line, to the running backs, to the wide receivers.

“We don’t win that game without him on the sidelines, as into it as he was. He was a great help.”

Head coach Chuck Pagano said Luck was mentally drained from the experience.

“He played that game,” the coach said of Luck’s mental focus. “He did, mentally. He wasn’t out there physically, but mentally he played that game. Every single snap. On both sides, when he had the chance. When he was done with the offense and making adjustments and this, that and the other, every play he was on that earpiece and he’s strained mentally.

“He gave everything he had. He was mentally whipped after that, just like he did play it.”

During Monday’s walk-through practice, Luck was observed lobbing two passes to running backs during the portion of the workout the media is permitted to watch.

But Pagano didn’t want to say much about if Luck will return Thursday.

“He looked good,” the coach said. “He’s moving in the right direction, trending in the right direction, so a lot better than he was Saturday morning.”

The Colts worked out Luck on Saturday but his shoulder was still sore on Sunday morning, so he was among the team’s inactives.

“He had a good day,” Pagano said, when asked if Luck threw much on Monday. “He had a good day today.”

But did he throw much on Monday?

“He had a good day today,” Pagano repeated.

Is the goal for Luck to play Thursday?

“No different than it was (last week),” Pagano said. “The goal was to try and see if he would be available for (Sunday’s) ballgame and it just didn’t work out that way. So still a goal to try to get him ready to go for this game.”

The coach was asked if he’s confident Luck has made progress.

“Yeah, because he came in and felt really good this morning,” Pagano said. “He felt really good. No setbacks. Again, he’s trending in the right direction.”

The Colts evidently were encouraged enough to release quarterback Josh Johnson on Monday. He had been signed Thursday night to back up Hasselbeck. The roster move means the Colts have just Hasselbeck and Luck active for Thursday, so it stands to reason they expect Luck to be able to go.

Not that Pagano was willing to tip his hand on that presumption.

“That’s up to you,” he said, when asked if something could be read into the roster move.

When asked if Johnson’s release was related to Luck’s health, Pagano repeated, “Again, that’s up to you guys to figure that one out. You guys are a lot smarter than I am.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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