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INDIANAPOLIS — What Andrew Luck will be able to do when he joins his teammates for the start of offseason workouts remains a mystery. It’s possible the Indianapolis Colts quarterback might not even be throwing that first week of April.

The Colts know that. The bigger storyline is that Luck will be back at the team facility, in the locker room, and around his teammates and the coaching staff again. That in itself is big for Luck and for the entire organization.

“It’s not just learning a new system. He’s a smart guy; he can probably learn whatever he needed to in a week,” coach Frank Reich said. “But it’s really about culture. It’s about teamwork. It’s about he’s more than just our quarterback, he’s a big-time leader of our team. So to be a part of that and to be part of the culture that we’ve talked about … as [general manager] Chris [Ballard] and I have sat down and said, ‘Hey, what are we building here? What are we building?’ And obviously Andrew is a critical piece to that and his leadership at every level is important.”

Ballard says he thinks Luck — who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in January 2017 — will progress to throwing a football at some point in April or May.

That’s the boldest statement Ballard has made about Luck and his progress in the past year. The past 14 months have consisted of two things: Where is Andrew Luck in his rehabilitation and when will he return?

The thought that the 28-year-old might be nearing a return bubbled up too often around the organization last season. The Colts wondered about it during training camp, as the weeks passed by early in the regular season, and they definitely wondered about it after he started practicing with the team. The reality that Luck might not play in 2017 set in when he was shut down in October due to continued soreness in his right shoulder. Since then, Luck has traveled to the Netherlands and California to work on the physical and mental steps he must take if he’s to return to a Colts team that finished 4-12 without him in 2017.

“I’ve preached since I’ve walked in the door, it’s not about one guy; and I thought there were times last year where we were just … I think we were all, everybody was just waiting for this savior to come in on a white horse and save the day,” Ballard said. “I think everybody got to the realization — that’s one thing I was really proud of our team for — they just played. Were we the best team? No, but they battled, they played and once they saw this is what it is, they just played.”

It’ll be good for Luck personally to be in the comfort zone of the facility. He has said on more than one occasion that not playing has worn on him mentally. He took every meaningful snap during his first three seasons after the Colts drafted him first overall in 2012, only to miss 26 games over the past three seasons because of injuries ranging from his ribs and shoulder to a lacerated kidney and a concussion.

“Is it going to help having him back in the building? Absolutely it is,” Ballard said. “I think it’s going to be good for Andrew to be back around his teammates. I think that’s what he wants. I think that’s what he misses. I think he misses being around the locker room, being around his guys. Like I said a while ago, it’s one of the special things about this kid. He likes to be considered as one of the teammates.

“The only other player I’ve ever been around like that is [Brian] Urlacher. Urlacher, superstar Brian, he was just one of the guys, and he didn’t ever want to be treated differently. He knew his status, but he never acted in that way. You never would have known. So, in terms of him being back, yeah, I think it’ll be good for the organization, good for the team, good for the locker room and good for Andrew.”

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Three QBs from College Football Playoff among 131 players on official early entry NFL draft list

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Ohio State junior quarterback Justin Fields is among 98 players granted special eligibility by the NFL into the league’s draft, while national championship-winning QBs Mac Jones from Alabama and Trevor Lawrence from Clemson are among another 30 players eligible after completing their degrees and deciding not to play more in college.

Those 128 players, plus three more who inquired about their draft status but didn’t need special eligibility, were on the NFL’s official list released Friday as available to be drafted after giving up their remaining college eligibility. The 131 total players is 11 more than last year, but still below the record 132 two years ago.

Fields, Jones and Lawrence, three of the starting quarterbacks from the four-team College Football Playoff earlier this month, had previously said publicly they were moving on to the NFL. The draft is April 29-May 1 in Cleveland.

They accounted for half of the six quarterbacks on the early entry list. The others are Zach Wilson after leading BYU to an 11-1 season, Stanford’s Davis Mills and Trey Lance, who led FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to a national title a year ago.

National champion Alabama has five players leaving early after beating Ohio State in the CFP title game on Jan. 11, with All-America quarterback Jones and linebacker Dylan Moses both early graduates. All-America cornerback Patrick Surtain II, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and receiver Jaylen Waddle were among the 98 players who met the NFL’s three-year eligibility rule.

Lawrence was 43-2 as Clemson’s starter and led the Tigers to the national title at the end of the 2018 season.

The 30 players with college eligibility remaining after completing their degree requirements had to notify the NFL of their intentions for the draft. That was up from 16 such players last year.

As for those 98 players granted special eligibility without yet finishing their degrees, that was one fewer than last year and the lowest total since 95 in 2017. Players less than four years removed from high school who have not completed a degree need to be granted special entry to the draft by the NFL.

Southern California has the most players leaving early for NFL draft eligibility with six. Stanford and Ohio State matched Alabama with five each.

That total for Stanford doesn’t include offensive tackles Walker Little and Foster Sarell, who inquired about their draft status but can be selected without the need for special eligibility. The only other player in that group was UAB linebacker Jordan Smith.

Elijah Moore, an All-American from Ole Miss, is one of the 19 receivers, and All-American Kyle Pitts from Florida among six tight ends. There are nine running backs on the list.

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Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, still in concussion protocol, at practice again Friday

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes was with the Kansas City Chiefs as they began Friday’s practice session, their last one before Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium.

His participation on Friday would appear to put Mahomes on a path to play Sunday. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Mahomes took all of the snaps in Wednesday’s practice and a majority of them on Thursday.

Mahomes was knocked out of last week’s divisional-round playoff win over the Browns with symptoms of a concussion after he was tackled hard on a running play. He has been in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Three other key Chiefs players who have been fighting injuries were also present for the start of Friday’s practice: wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf), running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (hip, ankle) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (concussion, shoulder).

Coach Sean McDermott said the Bills were preparing for Mahomes to play.

“I guess at the beginning of the week we weren’t quite sure, and we really won’t know, I guess,” McDermott said. “It’s probably trending in that direction, so that’s what we’re anticipating.”

ESPN’s Mike Reiss contributed to this report.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown ruled out for NFC title game vs. Green Bay Packers

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not have wide receiver Antonio Brown for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at the Green Bay Packers, coach Bruce Arians announced Friday.

“I just talked to him this morning, and to put him on the plane and fly up there and have it swell more doesn’t any sense,” Arians said. “He wasn’t as close as we’d hoped, so we’ll get him ready for the next one.”

Brown suffered a knee injury in the divisional playoff game at the New Orleans Saints and played only 27 snaps. He did not practice this week.

Arians had described him as “day to day,” but Brown wasn’t able to progress quickly enough in his healing.

The former All-Pro led the Buccaneers in receiving targets the final five weeks of the regular season and had a 36-yard touchdown catch in their wild-card win over Washington. Brown also has experience playing in two league championship games and a Super Bowl, something few other players have on this roster outside of Tom Brady.

“It obviously sucks for Antonio. We wish he could be out there with us,” Brady said. “Other guys are gonna have to step up and do the job. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that haven’t been out there as much when AB’s been in there.”

Arians said he believes Scotty Miller and rookie Tyler Johnson will be able to step up. Johnson made a key third-down catch for 15 yards against the Saints. Miller had one catch for 29 yards against New Orleans, but he has been on the receiving end of some of Brady’s best deep pass plays this season — a 33-yard touchdown grab against the Las Vegas Raiders and a 48-yard touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

“I think if you just look to last week, when Scotty and Tyler made those huge plays in the fourth quarter, the amount of trust that the coaches and Tom have in those guys just because they’ve earned it. Their performances have earned it,” Arians said. “Antonio will be missed, but we’ve got capable people stepping in.”

Arians said there is a possibility that defensive tackle Vita Vea will play after returning to practice this week for the first time since fracturing his ankle in Week 5.

“He’s looked real good. He’s been running around for almost three weeks and had a real good practice yesterday and a good one today,” Arians said. “We haven’t made that determination yet, but we’ll see if we want to activate him or not. There is a chance.”

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