Few franchises, if any, have a more acute understanding of the value of a backup quarterback than the Colts.
Which explains why Curtis Painter is in Baltimore, Dan Orlovsky is in Tampa, Kerry Collins is re-retired and Andrew Luck is the man. Had any of the first three performed better, the latter would be elsewhere.
“Kind of like a deep snapper,” offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “You don’t miss him until you don’t have one.”
It’s beginning to look like the Colts just might have two.
While Luck was nearly flawless in guiding the Colts to a 21-3 first-half lead in the preseason opener against St. Louis Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium, Drew Stanton and Chandler Harnish picked up where he left off.
The two combined to complete 11 of 14 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown as the Colts rolled to a 38-3 victory over the Rams.
The lone veteran in the group, Stanton is entering his sixth season, having spent his first five with the Lions. He appeared in 12 games, starting four, completing 55.6 percent of his attempts for 1,158 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions.
A second-round pick from Michigan State in 2007, Stanton backed up another No. 1 pick, Matthew Stafford, for three seasons in Detroit. He thought he had landed a solid No. 2 job when he signed with the Jets in early March but five days later Tim Tebow was acquired.
Stanton subsequently was traded to the Colts, who value his experience. He is sandwiched on the depth chart by two rookies. Luck was the first player selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, Harnish the last.
“I was fortunate enough to have Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper and some other guys to learn from in my time in Detroit and show me what’s like to be a professional, to play this position, the time and effort that you have to put in, the dedication it takes and the professionalism that goes along with that,” Stanton said. “That’s what I’ve tried to bestow on these guys. Obviously, they don’t need much help from me. That’s the reason why they’re here.
“Andrew and Chandler have been blessed. They’re extremely hard workers. There’s no questions about any of those things but the nuances are what I’m trying to help them with — the time management, studying the film, breaking down the film, understanding the offense, how you can make it in its most simplistic form so you can go out there and play fast.”
Stanton was 8 of 11 for 83 yards against the Rams, playing three possessions and directing one scoring drive — completing four passes on a 13-play, 85-yard March capped by a Darren Evans run that pushed the lead to 28-3 late in the third quarter.
“I’ve seen great improvement,” Arians said of Stanton. “His accuracy has improved a ton, that’s gone along with his knowledge of what we’re trying to get done. He’s had an excellent camp. Every now and then he’ll throw one in there thinking his arm is strong enough and he’ll throw a pick, and just learn from that and don’t do it again. But I’ve been real pleased with him. I feel comfortable if we had to play him that we could win a ballgame.”
Harnish then came on and tossed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ross on his second attempt, a nice complement to Luck, who had a 63-yard scoring flip to Donald Brown on his first snap.
This, of course, is old hat for Stanton. On his pass in a regular season game, he threw for a touchdown against Jacksonville in 2008.
“It’s awesome to see Drew and Chandler — hometown hero Chandler Harnish (from Bluffton, Ind.) — do some damage,” Luck said. “It was a lot of fun for me on the sideline.”
When it was pointed out Harnish required twice as many attempts to get his first touchdown, Luck smiled.
“Supposedly he has a better passer rating than me,” he said, “so he’s got that right now.”
Indeed, Harnish was 3-of-3 for 52 yards and the touchdown, which added up to a perfect rating of 158.3. Luck posted a 142.7 rating with his 10-of-16, 188-yard, two-touchdown performance.
There may be some good-natured rivalry among the quarterbacks on the stat sheet, there is none on the field. Stanton knows who is, and will remain, at the top of the depth chart. His job is to not only offer whatever help he can to Luck and Harnish but keep himself sharp, just in case.
“It takes the right mentality,” Stanton said. “You have to have the right approach to it and I think I’ve learned that over time, playing this position, what it takes to get ready just from a personal standpoint. I feel like I’m in a good place right now for me, personally. I’m trying to bestow that upon Chandler, teach him the conduct you would like to have going out there and preparing because you are one play away. He’s two plays away from going in the game.
“I’ve seen that first-hand of how that can change quickly. You saw it last year in Chicago a little bit when they’re in the middle of a playoff run, their starting quarterback goes down and all of a sudden they’re on the outside looking in. You don’t want to be that guy.”
The Colts have seen that guy. That’s why they wanted this one.