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2014 Colts Positional Preview: Quarterbacks

As we approach training camp, Stampede Blue’s Josh Wilson looks position by position at the Colts roster, looking at the talent they have and at how the final roster might play out. Today we look at the quarterbacks.

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, we can actually say that training camp begins next month.  The Indianapolis Colts will report to Anderson University on July 23rd to begin camp, so we're almost there!  As we've done ever since I've been here (and probably before, too), we'll be taking a position-by-position look at where the Colts roster stands entering camp, and we begin the series today with an easy one - the quarterbacks.

It doesn't take a professional analyst to figure this position out.  Andrew Luck is the obvious starter, Matt Hasselbeck is the second stringer, and Chandler Harnish is the third string guy.  There is no position on the team that is more clear-cut than the quarterbacks, and the reason for that is largely because of the guy starting.

There's no question that Andrew Luck is the franchise player and the face of the franchise (even with that neckbeard).  In his second season in the league in 2013, Luck completed 60.2% of his passes (343-of-570) for 3,822 yards (6.71 yards per attempt), 23 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions.  He finished the season with a passer rating of 87, but added 377 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground running the ball (averaging 5.98 yards per carry).  Again he led the Colts on several comebacks, including a massive comeback in the wild card round of the playoffs to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs.  Luck threw 4 scoring tosses and scored another touchdown on a fumble recovery that has become the signature play of Luck's career in Indianapolis (rightfully so, too).

In the playoffs, however, Luck's completion percentage dropped (57%) but more significantly his interceptions rose tremendously, as he threw 7 in two playoff games after throwing just 9 in sixteen regular season games.  His interception percentage rose from a phenomenal 1.58% in the regular season to a horrible 8.14% in the postseason.  As a result, some people (such as PFF) have labeled Luck as inconsistent.  As PFF's Gordon McGuinnes wrote in his look at the Colts depth chart,

"... for as good as Luck is when the chips are down, he's still been far too inconsistent for us to have him any higher. His ceiling is obviously very high, but he needs to cut down on the mistakes to become a top-tier quarterback in the NFL."

With all due respect, that's just not accurate.  To suggest that Andrew Luck is too inconsistent and makes too many mistakes comes from just watching the playoff games - when, I might add, Luck had to carry the team even more than he had to in the regular season.  Sure, there were plenty of throws Luck made last year that weren't good and there were mistakes.  But from a guy that analyzed every single snap Luck took in 2013, he didn't make too many mistakes and he wasn't as inconsistent as some will be led to believe.  There's always room to improve, yes, and I will say that Luck wasn't as consistent as you'd like, especially mid-season.  But to have that be the knock against him, in addition to the statement that he makes too many mistakes, is just false.

I'm ok with not calling Andrew Luck elite yet, but there's no doubt that he's among the top of the league as far as quarterbacks go and he's in the top-tier for sure.  Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Luck's game is his mobility and his running ability, which we've talked about here but which some in the national media are finally starting to realize.  Take the MMQB's Andy Benoit, for example, who recently said that Luck is the best running quarterback in the NFL.  Yes, that's right, over Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and others.  You can read his full explanation here, but here's his summary:

"About one out of four times, a young running quarterback will make a poor decision to scramble or do something to get himself sacked. That is, unless he's Andrew Luck, who is basically a 10-year veteran in his approach to running with the ball (and treated as such; notice the Colts did not jeopardize his safety with designed run calls). In terms of efficiency, which is crucial to quarterbacking, Luck was clearly the best of this bunch-and that's just in the running department. Based on what his decision-making revealed in this instance, my guess is he'd be even further ahead of Griffin, Kaepernick, Newton and Wilson if we conducted a passing-game analysis."

What am I trying to say here?  Basically, I'm trying to say that Andrew Luck is one heck of a quarterback, and he's only going to get better.  His first two years were tremendous and I expect even bigger things from him in 2014.  He has plenty of weapons with T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and others.  If offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton lets Luck loose and allows him to beat teams instead of playing catch-up, then there won't be many teams that will be able to stop Andrew Luck and the Colts offense.  Neither the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, nor the Denver Broncos could do so last year, and Luck and the offense should be even better this year if their offensive coordinator (who is one of the brightest rising stars among NFL coordinators) lets them.

As far as Luck's backup goes, we have to first realize that if for some reason Luck were to get hurt and be unable to play, the Colts won't be winning many games.  But that said, it wouldn't turn into a disaster like the 2011 season did (though that led to the Colts getting Luck) because they have Matt Hasselbeck as a backup.  He's a veteran who has played and played well in his NFL career and has playoff experience as well.  At this point in his career, he's a top backup but if he had to play for an extended period of time, the Colts wouldn't be close to the playoffs.  That said, there aren't many backup quarterbacks in the league better than Matt Hasselbeck.

The only real question at this position is the same exact one that we had last year - will Chandler Harnish make the 53-man roster, the practice squad, or neither?  I would be very surprised if he makes the 53-man roster because the Colts don't need to keep two quarterbacks, especially considering that Luck has never missed a game and is the Colts best player.  Harnish already has spent two seasons on the practice squad, though as this article from SB Nation highlights about the practice squad:

"Players can be eligible for a third practice squad season if their team maintains no less than 53 players on the active/inactive list at all times."

Is that what will happen to Harnish?  It's likely, but we just don't know.  And honestly, this year's camp is a big one for him.  In his rookie season in 2012 he looked pretty good and played well in both camp and preseason.  Last year, however, he struggled in both camp and preseason and looked pretty bad.  Considering the fact that this is likely Hasselbeck's last year as the Colts backup, the team could be watching Harnish to see if he's the replacement to be Luck's backup.

All of the questions about this position, however, are pretty insignificant, because the Colts have Andrew Luck.  And, as I mentioned in an article about how the expectations for the Colts are the Super Bowl, the Colts are going to go as far as Andrew Luck takes them.

Week One Starter: Andrew Luck; Backup: Matt Hasselbeck; Cut: Chandler Harnish

For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews:

| QB | RB/FB | WR | TE | OL | DL | OLB | ILB | CB | S | S/T |