On Friday, the Indianapolis Colts finally admitted that they’ve screwed up the most important position in sports for the past eight months. The team didn’t say that, of course, but today’s announcement screams it.
The Colts will start Jacoby Brissett at quarterback on Sunday, at home against Arizona, benching Week 1 starter Scott Tolzien and holding on for dear life while they wait for Andrew Luck to return to the field. This comes less than two weeks after Brissett was acquired from the Patriots in exchange for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. The Colts’ puzzling moves at quarterback since Luck underwent shoulder surgery in January can be regarded as first-year GM Chris Ballard’s first demerit, while also adding any number of nails in Chuck Pagano’s coffin.
Luck’s injured shoulder dates back to 2015, and he played (poorly, relative to his standards) through the injury in 2016 before the Colts finally decided to have him go under the knife. They have promised that they won’t trot the franchise quarterback onto the field until he’s 100%, and this past Thursday was the first time that he even showed up on the sideline at team practice in a month. One could make a reasonable argument that, given the events of the calendar year, Luck won’t play in September.
Tolzien has never been NFL-starter quality and may be a bottom-half backup. But the Colts saw fit to have him take first-team reps in OTAs, minicamp and training camp despite practice after practice of poor decision-making and throws. Team owner Jim Irsay admitted the team considered bringing in a veteran (he hasn’t specified who), but that the quarterback they had in mind wanted too much money. Still, empirical evidence from the preseason games showed Tolzien would not be able to win a regular-season contest, just as he had never won one before in his career (0-3-1 in four starts, and in that tie—in 2013 for Green Bay—he was benched mid-game in favor of Matt Flynn, who led a comeback).
So enter Brissett, who was New England’s third-stringer last season and was forced to start two games for the suspended Brady and injured Jimmy Garoppolo. He led the Patriots to a win over the Texans on a short week, then got blanked by the Bills in his second start after which Brady returned. Under normal circumstances, Brissett would be considered a developmental quarterback—I believe that phrase was even thrown around two weeks ago under abnormal circumstances. Apparently that development took only two weeks, and specifically five days after the Colts dropped a 46-9 opener to the Rams in Los Angeles.
Continuing the malfeasance, Pagano opted to split the first-team reps this week at practice. That safeguarded against hurt feelings but surely short-changed the team’s preparation for Sunday’s game against Arizona. If you know you can’t win with Tolzien and Brissett is the better quarterback, get the former N.C. State stud—now one of four former Wolfpack QBs starting in the league (along with Philip Rivers, Mike Glennon and Russell Wilson)—as many reps as possible.
The Colts’ refusal to properly address their quarterback situation for nine months is no different than, say, Seattle or Houston failing to address their offensive lines. And it’s an opportunity missed in a wide-open division; Jacksonville was the only AFC South team to win in Week 1.
Now the Colts are stuck waiting on Luck to get healthy while they rush a second-year passer with 58 career throws into a system he met less than two weeks ago. Though, considering their recent history, maybe this isn’t surprising.
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