INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The next step in the Indianapolis Colts’ bid to put an unfulfilling 2015 season behind them comes July 26 when they report to Anderson University for the start of training camp.
Over the next several days, we’ll take a positional look at how they’ve positioned themselves not only to challenge for the AFC South title, but to make a possible run at Super Bowl 51.
Today, we put the focus on quarterbacks.
Starter: Andrew Luck
Backup: Scott Tolzien
Others: Stephen Morris, Josh Woodrum
The main/money man: That would be Luck, on both counts. Anyone doubting his status as the franchise’s most indispensable player were put to rest in late June when owner Jim Irsay made Luck the highest-paid player in NFL history. The five-year, $123 million extension ties him to Indy through the 2021 season and includes a record $87 million in guarantees.
The focus and pressure was going to be on Luck prior to the extension considering he was coming off an injury-prone, error-plagued 2015. The magnitude of the contract simply ramps things up. As much as Luck and the entire organization will insist this is a shared venture moving forward – and they’ll be correct to a degree – No. 12 remains the key to whether the Colts return to postseason relevance or find themselves mired in NFL mediocrity.
Individually, it’s incumbent upon Luck to stay true to himself – be aggressive and a playmaker with his right arm and legs – while cutting down on his turnovers.
We’re convinced turnovers always are going to be a part of his game because he’s wired to take risks, but there are going to be occasions when he’s got to concede and not force things. Better decisions also should translate into less exposure to injuries.
“I have an obligation to keep myself healthy not only to myself, but to this team,’’ said Luck, who missed nine games last season with injuries to his right shoulder, ribs and kidney. “It is a fine line. You can talk about it, but it’s what you do on the field.’’
Backup plan: The Colts certainly got younger at backup QB. Gone is Matt Hasselbeck, the personable 40-year-old who retired after 17 seasons. He’s replaced by Tolzien, 28 and entering his sixth season.
But did they get better? Hasselbeck kept the franchise afloat in ’15 while Luck missed extensive time. He was 5-3 as a starter and passed for 1,690 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He lacked arm strength and mobility, but was effective until injuries took their toll.
Tolzien arrived as a free agent from Green Bay with a limited resume and a modest two-year, $3.5 million contract. He appeared in six games in three seasons with the Packers, starting twice – one loss, one tie – and passing for 721 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions.
The Colts need Tolzien to be an upgrade over Hasselbeck – and Charlie Whitehurst and Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley – just in case.
“You never know when your time is going to come and that’s my job . . . to be ready,’’ Tolzien said. “Some would say it’s the greatest job in the world and I wouldn’t dispute that. I love my job, but you always have to be ready and you never know when that’s going to be.’’
Worth noting: We mentioned the importance of Luck cutting down on his turnovers, and we weren’t just making things up. In 61 games, including the playoffs, he’s suffered 84 turnovers – 67 interceptions and 17 fumbles.
In case you’re still not convinced this once again needs to be a point of emphasis, consider the Colts are 14-2 in games when the Luck-led offense hasn’t turned the ball over.