During the Peyton Manning years, preseason games were often especially rough to sit through.
While it was often a joy to watch Manning do anything on a football field, his back-ups during his fourteen years in Indianapolis weren't so entertaining. In fact, it often felt like if any of them completed a pass, or led any kind of scoring drive, that is was almost a minor miracle.
However, the 2011 season changed the way the Colts viewed the back-up quarterback position.
After losing Peyton Manning for the entire season following spinal fusion surgery, the Colts flirted with an 0-16 regular season record, due in no small part to inept play of quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins. It wasn't until veteran Dan Orlovsky - a guy who once quarterbacked the 2009 0-16 Detroit Lions - was given the reigns that the Colts finally won two of their final three games, avoiding the dreaded "winless" label.
With Peyton Manning released and the old front office cleared out following the 2011 season, a new philosophy regarding back-up QBs was adopted.
Instead of simply drafting low round prospects, or signing low-level talent from the bottom rung of the free agency barrel, the Colts front office made significant investments in the back-up quarterback position. In 2012, they traded a late-round draft pick to the Jets in exchange for Drew Stanton. Stanton had, at one point, been the starting quarterback with the Lions. At 6'3, 240 pounds, he was big, strong, a very good arm, and experience.
Because the Colts had Andrew Luck, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick, at quarterback in 2012, Stanton never saw the field in a meaningful way. Luck started all 16 regular season games, but there was a sense amongst fans and coaches that, if anything happened to Luck, the offense would continue to develop and the team could wins games with Stanton at quarterback.
Part of the reason for that was Stanton's solid play in preseason in 2012.
In 2013, Stanton opted to follow former Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to Arizona. This left a hole at the back-up quarterback position as the Colts were not completely confident that 2012's "Mr. Irrelevant" selection in the draft, quarterback Chandler Harnish, was ready to act as Luck's primary back-up. Thus, the team signed fourteen-year veteran Matt Hasselbeck to a two-year, $8 million contract during the 2013 offseason.
Hasselbeck has a long and very impressive resume as a starting quarterback in the NFL. In fact, from 2003-2007, one could argue that he was one of the top quarterbacks in all of football, guiding the Seattle Seahawks to five playoff appearances, including Super Bowl XL.
So, while preseason games are generally dull and lifeless to watch when compared to regular season games, they suck just a little less now that the Colts finally have invested in quality talent at the back-up quarterback position. Sunday's first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills showcased some of that talent, especially when Hasselbeck hit second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton on a pretty 45-yard bomb for a touchdown in the first quarter.