Previewing Colts training camp: Quarterbacks

Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – This is the first in a series taking a position-by-position look at the Indianapolis Colts heading into training camp, which is scheduled to open July 28 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

Today: QUARTERBACKS

  • Starter: Philip Rivers.
  • Backup: Jacoby Brissett.
  • Depth: Jacob Eason, Chad Kelly.

New leader: It didn’t take extensive evaluation to determine change at QB1 was required. It was too easy – and wrong – to blame everything that went wrong in 2019 on Brissett and his level of play that declined as the season unfolded and unraveled.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Brissett wasn’t aggressive enough, decisive enough or good enough – especially after he suffered his knee injury week 9 at Pittsburgh – and a better option moving forward was necessary.

Remember Frank Reich’s comment during his ’19 postscript? They came after the passing game ranked 30th in yards per game (194.3) and Brissett 30th in yards per attempt (6.58).

“We are used to around here in this area of the country of knowing how to throw the football,” he said. “So we are going to throw the football, OK? We will figure it out. We didn’t do a good enough job this year.

“We will do better next year.”

Shortly thereafter, the wheels went in motion that resulted in Philip Rivers, 38 and suddenly a free agent after 16 seasons with the Chargers, relocating to Indy and reuniting with Reich. The cost: a one-year, $25 million contract. If Reich was correct with his assessment, Rivers will be back in 2021.

Brissett was and is the consummate teammate. At his best, he was efficient. Prior to spraining the MCL in his right knee against the Steelers, the Colts were 5-2 and he had 14 TDs, just three interceptions and had completed 64.8 percent of his attempts. But one bottom-line stat can’t be ignored: he’s averaged an unacceptable 6.6 yards per attempt during his 38-game career.

We’ll soon find out if Rivers still is an upper-echelon QB. Have the Colts reloaded in the short term with the 2018 version (32 TDs, 12 interceptions, a 105.5 rating, a 12-4 record by the Chargers)? Or was ’19 (23 TDs, 20 interceptions, an 88.5 rating, a 5-11 team record) an indication we’ve seen the best of Rivers and he’ll be coaching at St. Michael High School in Fairhope, Ala. next fall?

If Rivers still has it, the Colts should at least contend for the AFC South. Anything less will be an abject failure. Throughout his career, Rivers has displayed a willingness to push the football in tight spaces, and that worked for him and the Chargers more times than not. Rivers is 123-101 as a starter – he’s started 224 consecutive games, the NFL’s longest active streak – and has averaged 7.8 yards per attempt and 12.1 yards per completion.

If the Colts turned to a spent Rivers, so many of the other bold offseason moves – most notably trading the 13th overall pick for DeForest Buckner – likely will have been for naught.

Backup plan: Hello, Jacoby Brissett. His noted deficiencies aside – most can be traced to a reluctance to take risks with the football; just 13 interceptions in 38 games – Brissett has proven to be good enough at times to get the job done. And this looks to be one of the best top-to-bottom rosters the Colts have had in recent years.

Rivers insisted he’s always benefited from a “dynamic” QB room that’s always pulled in one direction. At least initially, Brissett had to adjust to no longer being the leader of that room.

“Was it tough on him? Yes, no doubt,” admitted quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady. “I had side conversations with him, talking him through it, because I mean it is a tough situation, the competitor that he is and the expectations he has on himself.

“You don’t want to be a distraction because that’s not naturally who you are, so you can’t let the situation bring you down as a person and the professional player you want to be.”

Brissett was not made available to the media during the team’s virtual offseason program, but Brady noted Brissett and Rivers began developing a relationship and “text all the time.”

As far as the Colts using a fourth-round pick on Jacob Eason, it was with the long term in mind. If he develops as expected, he’s the post-Rivers answer at the position.

Fact worth noting: Remember Peyton Manning starting 208 consecutive regular-season games? Remember Andrew Luck starting the first 51 of his career? There was comfort in knowing that guy would be under center on opening day.

Well, a revolving door will continue to spin when the Colts open the season Sept. 13 at Jacksonville. They’ll have a different opening-day starting QB for a fourth consecutive season: Rivers in ’20, Brissett in ’19, Luck in ’18 and Scott Tolzien in ’17. We could argue it’s five straight (Luck in ’16).

They haven’t had the same QB in consecutive openers since Luck in 2015-16. That’s the NFL’s longest streak.

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