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Look for Colts to rely more on Luck

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The preseason has yet to begin, but already injuries have taken a toll on the Indianapolis Colts’ offense.

Running back Vick Ballard (foot) is out for the season. So is offensive lineman Donald Thomas (quad).

Lucky for the passing game, Andrew Luck has a wide assortment of quality targets.

He’s likely to need them.

Ballard’s loss, coupled with season-ending surgery for Thomas, are a sharp blow to a running game that went nowhere last year, thanks in part to injuries in the backfield and on the offensive line.

In addition, Trent Richardson performed far below expectations after being acquired in a Week 3 trade and is nursing a sore hamstring that has limited him in training camp.

So here the Colts are again, contending with disruptive rushing issues that could once again put more of an onus on Luck — who, at least for the time being, finally has a healthy cast of receivers.

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne and third-year tight end Dwayne Allen are working their way back from season-ending injuries and are expected to be ready for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Denver.

Tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton appear poised to make even more gains in their third NFL seasons. And free-agent acquisition Hakeem Nicks adds depth and experience to a receiving corp that, on paper, could be among the NFL’s best.

Although Luck doesn’t regard the Colts’ offense as pass-happy, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback relishes the opportunity to have a healthy receiving cast at his disposal.

“I think it creates matchup problems,” said Luck, whose primary downfield targets last year were Hilton and Fleener, thanks largely to injuries. “A Fleener, a Dwayne Allen, the wide receivers, the running backs, I think the ability for those guys to line up at any (position helps). Dwayne can do a lot, a lot of stuff.

“It takes a bunch of guys (to perform) throughout a season, and we know that. So the way the guys are playing now, it should be a lot of fun.”

Having Wayne back has added to the excitement.

Although he is being worked cautiously back into the fold, the six-time Pro Bowler has participated in camp each day and has experienced no setbacks from the ACL tear that ended his season in Week 7.

“So far so good. I haven’t had any problems, nothing out of the norm,” Wayne said. “They still got me on a pitch count, but so far so good. Nothing has kept me back; I haven’t had any pain.

“I haven’t had anything that would make me worry, so hopefully we just stay to that course.”

Wayne’s return isn’t the only anticipated boost for the passing game. Nicks, a sixth-year pro who played five seasons with the New York Giants, topped 1,000 receiving yards in 2010 and 2011 and was one of Eli Manning’s favorite targets.

Now, he’s working to become the same for Luck.

“Both are great quarterbacks. Highly, highly competitive,” Nicks said. “They both got that motor to compete. I enjoyed playing for Eli. It’s been a pleasure. Some great things came out of that, but I’m onto the next chapter now.

“I’m here with ‘Drew and I like him a lot, and I like the chemistry that we’re developing thus far.”

Backfield injuries notwithstanding, the Colts still plan to stress the run in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s diverse system. But as the Colts have demonstrated the past two seasons, when all else fails, Luck can efficiently move the chains, regardless of who’s healthy and who’s not.

For the time being, his primary targets are healthy — which could make Luck all the more dangerous in an offense that might once again have to prosper in the air.

“His leadership each year gets better and better, along with his game,” Wayne said. “One thing that I love about him is that he hasn’t changed. He came in loving the game of football, wanting to be the best, wanting to do everything he can to help the team win, and he’s still the same way.

“I really believe he’s going to be that dude, when it’s all said and done. He has that aura around him that shows a team that this is a superb leader. He’s worthy of being the first pick of the draft. He’s worthy of replacing an all-time great.

“It’s something that we love to have on our side. I’m excited to have him as a teammate. He makes me better. One thing about it, he knows this offense. He’s played it, so he knows all the secrets as far as getting open and things like that and finding different holes in defenses. It’s a blessing to have him as a teammate. Hopefully we can keep him healthy this year and as a receiver standpoint, hopefully we can continue to help him look good.”

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