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Indianapolis Colts 2016 position preview: Quarterbacks

NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Minicamp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts report to Anderson University for training camp in just over a week, meaning that this long offseason is almost over. The focus turned long ago from the tough 2015 season to the upcoming 2016 season, and we’re going to be taking a look at each position for the Colts entering camp.

Up first is the most obvious and the easiest position preview: quarterback. There’s no doubt whatsoever about this position, as Andrew Luck is firmly entrenched as the starter. The Colts gave Luck a six-year extension this offseason worth $140 million with $87 million guaranteed, giving him the largest contract in NFL history. Again, there’s no doubt that, when healthy, Luck’s the team’s franchise player.

That “when healthy” part is key, as that was one of the biggest reasons why the Colts missed the playoffs last year. Luck wound up missing nine games in total due to various injuries as he dealt with shoulder, rib, kidney, and abdomen injuries - the latter two of which ended his season. Overall, it was a very rough year for the fourth year quarterback. Luck completed just 55.3% of his passes for 1,881 yards (6.42 yards per attempt), 15 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions (plus a lost fumble) in just seven games. On the positive side he was still on pace to throw for 34 touchdowns and 4,299 yards had he played 16 games, but on the negative side he also was on pace to turn the football over nearly 30 times. There are legitimate doubts about whether Luck was ever healthy during the 2016 season and it’s perfectly fair to say injuries were a major factor in his struggles, but he still didn’t play particularly good football.

That’s a problem for the Colts, who are built so heavily around their franchise quarterback. In 2014, Luck was up to the task as he led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and broke the Colts single-season franchise record with 4,761 yards, but 2015 was a step back. As owner Jim Irsay loves to point out, however, the Colts’ win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos last year highlights just how good Luck can be. Going against a historic defense and getting hit repeatedly (one of which lacerated his kidney in the fourth quarter), Luck played turnover-free football as he led the Colts to a victory over the then-unbeaten Broncos.

We’ve seen what Luck can do, and we’ve seen just how talented he is; the challenge moving forward is for the quarterback to reach that level consistently, and that starts with staying on the field. The Colts invested heavily in their offensive line this offseason, most notably with first round center Ryan Kelly and new line coach Joe Philbin, and the emphasis is clear: protect 12. The Colts’ coaches have been working with Luck in practice on protecting himself, too.

The bottom line? If Luck stays healthy, it’s fair and reasonable to expect a return to form and a successful season from the Colts’ quarterback.

As we saw last year, however, the backup quarterback position can prove to be important, and Matt Hasselbeck filled in admirably. Hasselbeck is now retired and working for ESPN, however, and the Colts replaced him with Scott Tolzien as a free agent signing this offseason. Tolzien has spent time with the San Franciso 49ers and, more recently, with the Green Bay Packers, but he has just 91 career NFL pass attempts under his belt (having thrown for 721 yards, a touchdown, and five interceptions). Also added to the backup quarterback conversation are Stephen Morris and Josh Woodrum. Morris was signed by the Colts last year off of the Eagles’ practice squad, while Woodrum was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Liberty this year after the Giants cut him.

It’s very likely Tolzien’s job to lose when it comes to the backup quarterback position, but he certainly doesn’t inspire the same level of confidence that Matt Hasselbeck did for the past few seasons. Honestly, however, it’s as simple as this: with Andrew Luck, the Colts will be competitive. Without Andrew Luck, the Colts will struggle. That’s the makeup of the team, and they’re once again all-in with their franchise quarterback. Though last year was a tough one, there’s plenty of reason to believe Luck will get back on track this year.