Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck remains in the concussion protocol and head coach Chuck Pagano really didn’t have an update beyond that, making it even more unlikely that the franchise player will be able to return on a short week for Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And while the Colts aren’t ruling Luck out yet by any means, reading between the lines it certainly sounds as if they’re preparing as if Scott Tolzien will start Thursday instead. Pagano was non-committal on exact details, however, as he wouldn’t disclose whether the Colts will bring Stephen Morris up from the practice squad (“time will tell”) or whether it would be Tolzien or Morris starting if Luck can’t go (“we have options”). Pagano is keeping things secret for a competitive advantage, which is totally understandable, but it would be surprising if the Colts don’t promote Morris and don’t start Tolzien on Thursday night.
The Colts know what it’s like to play without Andrew Luck, however, as they did it for nine games last year - and thanks to the play of Matt Hasselbeck, they finished 8-8 overall.
“I think we all learned a lot about ourselves, the entire football team,” Pagano said today of having to play without Luck and what they can learn for this current situation. “I know there’s a lot of guys that aren’t here that was on that team, certainly [Matt] Hasselbeck was one of the key components in us being able to finish .500 along with three or four other quarterbacks through that stretch, but again I think having the ability to overcome those circumstances and not having our quarterback for that amount of time as a football team you can still win. So having been down that road, we have a bunch of guys in that locker room that went through that, a bunch of coaches, so we’re prepared and obviously ready for the challenge.”
The problem for Indianapolis, however, is that Hasselbeck is now working at ESPN - Pagano said he enjoys watching Hasselbeck when he gets the chance - and that means Scott Tolzien is the backup. Pagano acknowledges that there’s a difference between the situations considering how much experience Hasselbeck had at that point, but he’s confident in Tolzien’s ability.
“Yeah, I guess you could say you don’t have all those snaps and that body of work and all that tape and all that passes thrown and protections checked and those types of thing from that standpoint,” Pagano said, “but Scott’s a guy, Scott’s got a ton of ability and I have all the confidence in the world in this guy, and this organization does and most importantly the locker room and the players that are in that locker room have all the confidence. Because he’s one of those guys that’s first in and last to leave. In case he has to go, he’s sitting there at 10:30 last night still in the film room. So he’ll be ready.”
Pagano said that Stephen Morris was also in that film room last night and, since he’s the young guy, was the one who brought the burgers. For the Colts, though, it’s all about winning this Thursday.
“We’re going to do what we have to do to win this football game, to give us the best chance to win this football game and move the ball against their defense,” Pagano said earlier in his press conference. “Scott [Tolzien] knows the playbook, Stephen [Morris] knows the playbook. So we’ll do what’s necessary and see how they’re going to play us, what they’re going to trot out there versus our different personnel groups, and take it from there.”
There has been some discussion about whether the concussion spotters at the game adequately did their job after Luck’s head hit the ground at one point in the game, and Pagano wouldn’t get into that, saying that’s everyone - the officials, coaches, and spotters - are trying to do the best they can to get it right and take care of the players, as “nothing [is] more important than player safety.” But regardless of the blame game, the reality is that Luck does indeed have a concussion, and that means his status for Thursday’s game is very much in doubt - but Pagano isn’t feeling sorry for himself or for the team, despite the fact that the Colts were just finally starting to get some momentum.
“[It’s] football. Life in the National Football League,” he said. “You’d love to have everybody out there. You’d love to. Won two in a row and now you have to face some more adversity, another obstacle. So I hate to sound cliche-ish, as Andrew [Luck] would say, but it is what it is. They’re not canceling the game. So we’ll put our best foot forward and our guys will go out and compete their tails off, and we’ll play for sixty minutes and see what happens.”
All of the attention will be at the quarterback position on Thursday night for the Colts, so what’s Pagano’s message to Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris?
“Just play,” he said. “Just play. You can’t press. Prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare. It’s better to sweat in times of peace than times of war, so get prepared and then when Sunday comes - or Thursday comes - go play. Get the call, get them out of the huddle, get to the line of scrimmage, and go play. Go execute. You’re not alone. He doesn’t have to put the whole thing on his back, neither of the guys, whoever it is. Andrew never does. So just got to play.”