Unlike other players profiled in this series, Tom Brandstater has about as much chance of making the Colts roster as a special teams contributor as I do. Brandstater is not some rookie tight end looking to find a niche, or an under-sized DB fighting to prove he can contribute at multiple roster spots.
Brandstater is a quarterback, and if he is going to make the final 53-man roster, he must prove he can sling the football accurately and avoid critical mistakes.
Seems pretty simple, right? Unfortunately, it isn't. We've seen a gaggle of young and veteran QBs come to Indy trying to earn a spot as Peyton's back-up; a job that might just be the cushiest in all of football. Most of them don't get the job, and the reason is pretty universal: The Colts offense is difficult to learn. However, this year the Colts seemingly might have the most talented crop of quarterbacks in the Manning era. The question is whether or not Brandstater can showcase that talent in pre-season, making it difficult for the Colts not to keep him as the third quarterback.
Brandstater was drafted in the 6th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. For many in Broncos Nation, the drafting of Brandstater by former-New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a sign that Denver was doing things "The New England Way," which is another way of hoping that their 6th round pick from California would turn into another Tom Brady. Brady, a Cali native, was drafted in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for Brandstater, this off-season the Broncos brain trust fell in love with an over-hyped quarterback from Florida who has poor throwing mechanics and has never played a real football game in a pro-style system. They drafted this kid named Tim Tebow in the first round even though just about everyone else and their momma thought he was, at best, a 3rd round project. With Tebow in the mix, Brandstater became expendable, and the fleeting dream that was Tom Brady Part Deux for Josh McDaniels and Denver fans was fin.
Not long after Denver cut Brandstater, he was awarded to the Colts off waivers. It's worth noting that the Colts thought highly enough of him to put in a waiver claim rather than wait for him to clear waivers and become a free agent.
Brandstater's situation in Indy is pretty different than what he had to contend with in Denver. For starters, instead of fighting for a starting spot or the back-up spot, the only position Brandstater has any real hope of winning is the third QB spot, and that position is not guaranteed. Prior to last year, the Colts only carried two quarterbacks. This year, with Jim Sorgi gone and Curtis Painter now the unquestioned back-up QB, Brandstater has to battle with second-year quarterback Drew Willy for a spot on the team that might not end up being a spot at all unless one of the QBs battling makes a few "Wow!" plays in training camp and pre-season.
The smart money would be that Brandstater is the best candidate to win the third QB spot on the active roster. He's big (6'5, 220 pounds), intelligent, and has lots of experience adapting to change. At Fresno State, he played under four different offensive coordinators in four years. Last year, he had to learn McDaniels' system in Denver. Now, he gets the Colts and their no-huddle attack. A lack of coaching consistency might have cost Brandstater's some much needed growth time, but it could assist him if (like now) he has to learn a complicated offense in a reasonably short period of time.
Throwing-wise, Brandstater has an NFL arm. He can make the 15-yard out, and all his short and intermediate area passes have good zip. He shows poise in the pocket, and he's tough. As Mocking the Draft noted last year, Brandstater was one of the most impressive QBs throwing the football at the Scouting Combine that year.
Brandstater's negatives are his total lack of mobility, his ineffectiveness throwing on the move, and his accuracy on deep passes. Walter Football questioned his dedication in the film room, citing several mental mistakes in college that could have been the result of poor pre-snap reads.
However, despite his documented shortcomings, his issues seem correctable with good coaching and a strong desire to improve on the part of the player. Frank Reich and Jim Caldwell are tremendous teachers of the QB position. Tom Moore, who has stepped down as offensive coordinator and is now tutoring QBs like Curtis Painter in his new role of Senior Offensive Consultant, is a legend. Then, of course, there is Peyton Manning. Other than playing in high-pressure moments and making big-time plays, there's nothing Peyton loves to do more than teach young players how to play QB.
Essentially, if Brandstater can't learn how to be a better QB in Indy, he should consider a career change.
For 2010, I personally feel the Colts are entering training camp with the strongest corps of quarterbacks they've ever had in the Manning era. Obviously, Peyton is the rock for this franchise. He's never missed a game and has only missed one snap due to injury (way back in 2001). However, just because Peyton is the best does not mean that the players behind him need to be garbage. I kow this might sound a bit silly, but I don't subscribe to the notion that "If Peyton goes down, it's over."
No, it isn't.
Peyton makes this team a contender. Without him, the Colts are likely not competing for a Super Bowl. Then again, a washed-up Kurt Warner took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2008, and Rex Grossman quarterbacked the Bears to Super Bowl 41. In 2008, it certainly wasn't Matt Cassel's fault the Patriots missed they playoffs. It's was their defense, which surrendered over 30 points per game in loses to the Jets, Steelers, and Chargers that year. The point is that while not having an all-world QB like Peyton does significantly damage the team's chances of winning a Super Bowl, I still expect this group to be a playoff contender, Manning or no Manning.
There's a reason why Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Adam Vinatieri, Kelvin Hayden, Antoine Bethea, and Bob Sanders make the big money they make. They're supposed to be really, REALLY good. Playoff-good.
For me, all I ask is that the quarterback just run the offense. Part of running this offense is being able to push the football down the field. Without the threat of the deep ball, defenses cheat up and jump the intermediate and short routes. They also crowd the running game. Former back-up Jim Sorgi never had a strong arm, which was why we'd always see him play well between the 20s, but when the offense got into the red zone, it would stall. Sorgi hasn't thrown a football longer than 33 yards in four years. He simply lacks the ability to blast the ball down the field.
Painter and Brandstater have the arms to make the deep throws. More so than any other time, there is some real talent in all four quarterbacks on this current roster. For Brandstater, he must showcase that talent if he wants to stay on this team.
Camp opens in one week, four days.