Last season, the worst case scenario for the Indianapolis Colts actually happened: Andrew Luck was injured and missed several games. He wound up sitting out nine games in total due to shoulder, kidney, and other injuries, and that thrust Matt Hasselbeck into the starting role.
The veteran filled in capably, helping to keep the Colts' playoff hopes alive until the very last week of the season. This offseason, however, the Colts opted to move on from Hasselbeck, who then decided to retire and join ESPN. To replace him, they signed free agent Scott Tolzien.
Nobody wants to think about the possibility of Luck getting injured again right now, with all of the talk centering around his return to health and to practice, as well as hope for next year. But the reality of the NFL is that injuries happen, and if Luck goes down again the Colts will have to turn to Scott Tolzien.
“Well I think history obviously tells you that you better be squared away and have a backup in place that can go out and play winning football," Pagano mentioned on Tuesday when talking about the backup quarterback position. "Fortunately having Matt last year and the year before that obviously him coming in winning five games for you – you don’t see many teams having much success around the league with backup quarterbacks. We were fortunate because we had guys with obviously a ton of experience and ability to go in and win football games. Matt going 5-3 and then finding a way to win a game at the end of last year with two guys that we picked up off the street, have four or five days of preparation to get ready. It’s obviously very, very important. We know injuries are a part of this game. We’ve got to do a great job of keeping this kid healthy and keeping him upright and keeping him in the game. He obviously understands that some of that falls on his shoulders – I’m talking about Andrew.
"With Scott," Pagano continued, "when we went out and looked at the guys that were out there and the guys that were available – this guy has got good tape out there. He’s an athletic guy. He’s got a really strong arm. He’s got a quick release. He’s a smart guy. He’s wired the right way. He’s a perfect fit in that room. He continues to get better every day and make progress. If need be, the guy can go in and play good football for you.”
Tolzien, however, comes to the Colts with far less of a proven career than Hasselbeck. When the Colts signed Hasselbeck a few years ago, he already had thrown for 34,517 yards and 201 touchdowns in the NFL, started 123 games, and led a team to the Super Bowl. Tolzien comes to the Colts having just 91 career attempts under his belt, having started two games and thrown for 721 yards, a touchdown, and five interceptions in his five-year career.
The Colts are confident that the former backup to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers will prove more than capable of being the backup to Andrew Luck, even if that means he'll have to step in at a moment's notice. The way to stay ready, Tolzien said this week, is to prepare as the starter.
"I think you get this question a lot as a backup quarterback and the way to best prepare is to prepare like the starter," he said on Tuesday. "Ultimately my job is to be a good teammate and to help get Andrew ready and the best way to do that is to make sure I’m prepared so that we can collaborate and work together and help each other out and hopefully act as other coaches. But in order to do that, you have to know the game plan and treat yourself like the starter and in turn you are helping the team.”
Tolzien's approach to the Colts sounds a lot like Hasselbeck's: both realized that their job is to backup Andrew Luck and help him however necessary, and in doing so they also prepared in case they needed to step in and start. Hasselbeck proved capable of doing that last year. The Colts are confident that Tolzien is capable of doing that as well, though they're hoping they never get a chance to find out for sure.