INDIANAPOLIS — General manager Chris Ballard spent most of the offseason talking about the two starting-caliber quarterbacks on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster.
It’s time to find out if he got it right.
Ballard remained resolute in his opinion just minutes after watching Andrew Luck announce his surprise retirement following Saturday night’s preseason loss to the Chicago Bears.
“We’ve got a good football team, this is a good football team,” Ballard said. “We’re not going to ask Jacoby Brissett to be Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck was a unique, unique player. But Jacoby Brissett is a winning football player in this league. Jacoby Brissett is a rare, rare leader. He is. He’s a rare human being, man. The locker room loves Jacoby Brissett.”
The Colts already have a pretty good sense of what they have in Brissett, Luck’s successor.
He possesses prototypical size and a strong arm. He has starting experience and served as understudy to both Luck and Tom Brady, after New England drafted him in the third round in 2016. Even Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells is a fan. And now in his second season with coach Frank Reich and two full offseasons to learn the playbook, he has demonstrated a mastery of the playbook throughout training camp.
But this is not the same player who came to Indianapolis in a cutdown weekend trade in 2017, relieved Scott Tolzien eight days later in the season opener and then went 4-11 as the starter as Luck recovered from shoulder surgery.
In the two years since most fans last saw Brissett play, he’s become a more polished quarterback who makes quicker decisions and willingly throws the ball away — though there’s no doubt about his toughness in the pocket.
“The quarterback and the center really have to have complete control over (protection schemes) and I think Jacoby has made major — he was good last year, but I really think he’s made major strides to get really good in that area,” Reich said last week. “And just generally speaking, getting the ball out quick with rhythm, with timing.”
Now he must prove it to all those who doubt him.
For more than two decades, the Colts have been a model of consistency at quarterback. Peyton Manning started every game from 1998-2010 and Luck started all but 10 games from 2012-2016.
In the two seasons without Manning and Luck, Indy went 2-14 and 4-12.
The bookies expect it to happen all over again. When Luck announced he was leaving, they extended the odds of the Colts winning the Super Bowl, the AFC title or the division crown.
This time, though, could be different.
In 2011, Manning’s team was aging and lacked a capable replacement.
In 2017, Ballard just arrived and was embarking on a major, multiyear overhaul So when Luck didn’t play and Tolzien didn’t work out, they went with the young, untested Brissett who was sacked a league-high 52 times.
This time, Brissett lines up behind a line that allowed a league-low 18 sacks in 2018 and will work with Pro Bowl tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton and running back Marlon Mack, who nearly had his first 1,000-yard season last year despite missing five games. Indy also has an improving defense that finished 11th in the NFL last season.
So now Brissett will finally get his chance, and Ballard expects him to take it and run.
“Teams win, that’s what makes this game great,” he said. “Don’t write the end of the story yet. The story just started. I’m telling you don’t write the end of the story yet.”