INDIANAPOLIS — The question clearly stumped Frank Reich.

He paused to buy a little time and then began a carefully worded response. But it was clear he was improvising.

In fairness, it was a tough one.

After a year on the sideline and months of speculation about his surgically repaired right shoulder, Andrew Luck is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. So what's next for the 29-year-old Colts superstar?

“He’s playing at an elite level right now,” Reich said. “So the next step is just continue to elevate the game of everyone around you, which he’s doing. That’s what an elite quarterback does. There’s no one-man show. You want to say just continue to win. Winning football games is what it’s all about, and he needs to be a significant part of that. But it’s not a one-man operation.”

Reich's in his first year in Indianapolis. So he doesn't fully understand just how big a change that is for the franchise.

From his rookie season in 2012 until his body finally melted down last year, everything — literally and figuratively — rested on Luck's shoulders. And he paid a terrible physical price.

The list of injuries he suffered in 2015 and 2016 reads more like an accident victim than a professional athlete — lacerated kidney, cracked ribs, partially torn abdominal muscle. That doesn't even include a concussion that cost him a Thanksgiving night game against the Steelers and the torn labrum that set off the epic shoulder saga.

The latter two injuries came in games against the Titans — an opponent that never has beaten Luck on the scoreboard but has nonetheless exacted a personal toll.

Indianapolis (4-5) hosts Tennessee (5-4) in a critical AFC South matchup Sunday. The Titans are tied for the final wild-card playoff slot with seven games remaining. The Colts are trying to inch back to .500 and find they're way back into the postseason conversation.

Luck, once again, is the key.

But there's a significantly different supporting cast around him.

Most impressively, Indianapolis has not surrendered a sack in four consecutive games. That streak includes 185 straight pass attempts and just eight quarterback hits.

There's also a running game that's recently surged to life with consecutive 200-yard rushing games and a pass-catching corps diverse enough to have produced a franchise-record 11 different players with a touchdown reception through nine games.

Behind it all are Reich and first-year offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. A pair of masterminds who have unveiled new wrinkles and formations each week while helping to guide Luck to some remarkable numbers.

He has the longest active streak with a touchdown pass at 32 consecutive games, and his six straight games with at least three scoring tosses is the fourth-longest string in NFL history.

Luck's on pace to throw a career-high 47 touchdown passes — just two off Peyton Manning's franchise record — and his 66.3 completion percentage is the best of his career. In the past three games, he's completed 72.3 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

That's certainly enough to explain why his head coach might need a little time to think about where the quarterback can improve.

But Luck is focused on doing just that.

Reich's philosophy is based on a constant quest to get just a little bit better every day. No one exemplifies it more than the starting quarterback.

“I love the way this guy prepares,” Sirianni said. “He is a stud. He wants to be in there at all times preparing. He wants to have a plan in his head for every single play. Anything that the defense — ‘Hey, what about the one time they played this. What am I going to do here?’ — like he’s just a stud trying to get ready for the actual plays and a stud getting ready for the type of defense that he’s playing against.

“I think that is always a big difference between — there are a lot of guys in the NFL with talent and Andrew has elite talent. But I think a big separator a lot of the times is the amount you love football. Do you love football, and are you willing to work at it and sacrifice for it to be everything you can be in football? I just see that in him every single day.”

Luck's had the sacrifice part down for awhile now.

What's new this year is the smile.

It's been there from the first practice of training camp, through a disappointing 1-5 start and right up to the current white-hot streak.

It was there Wednesday before practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, making clear once again if nothing else in this ever evolving comeback campaign, the franchise quarterback is having a blast.

“I’m having fun,” Luck said. “It feels fun. I’m enjoying it. I think this is a great locker room to be a part of. I enjoy practice, enjoy meetings. Certainly think I have a little bit of a different perspective, different appreciation for this game, what coming to work means as a football player, as an NFL player. Still trying to improve, got a lot to improve on.”

Even if his head coach can't quite put a finger on what that means.

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