On September 8, the eve of Andrew Luck's regular-season NFL debut with the Indianapolis Colts, I was planning to settle in and check on the last-minute prognostications for the Horseshoes' Sunday tilt against the Chicago Bears. Try as I might to keep my mind focused on these new-look Colts, though, I couldn't ignore the headline blaring out of the Rocky Mountains this afternoon or the memories that it stirred of Indy's not-so-distant past. It seems that the Denver Broncos have released their backup quarterback, Caleb Hanie, and apparently decided that Peyton Manning is there first and only option for success this year. The Broncos' only other option at QB is rookie Brock Osweiler. If it weren't for the blue and orange uniforms, it might be hard to distinguish the 2012 Broncos from the various Manning renditions of the Colts.
To be fair, Caleb Hanie would probably not be much of a savior were Manning to go down for an extended period of time this season. In three previous campaigns, all with the Bears, Hanie has amassed 679 total yards with just three touchdowns and 10 interceptions, good for a 41.6 passer rating. Still, he and Manning ate most of the reps and playing time during this preseason, leaving Osweiler green even for a rookie. If Manning's decade-plus in Indianapolis taught us anything, it's that timing is a very large part of his game, and he insists on taking nearly all of the practice snaps once a season gets underway. In other words, Osweiler probably won't get much more experience between now and whenever he is called on to play in a real game, aside from becoming an expert at holding Manning's clipboard.
This strategy worked pretty well for the Colts during all the years when Manning was healthy. Peyton simply went out and dominated, and Jim Sorgi came in to mop up at the end of blowouts. Sorgi never really had to take on much real responsibility, though, but his successor did. Curtis Painter was called upon to maintain the Colts' perfect record late in the 2009 season, and he crumbled like a saltine in a blender. Not coincidentally, Painter was just a rookie that season, and his next big "break" came in 2011 when he was handed the keys to the franchise. Fair or not, the perception around here is that he was a major reason that the team crashed hard in Manning's absence.
All of which makes it all the more curious that the Broncos cut bait on their backup quarterback as the season dawns. They are clearly all-in for the ride that Manning will give them, regardless of where it leads. Chances are, it will be boom or bust for Denver this year, because there just seems to be no middle ground where Peyton Manning is concerned.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Colts fans since the team arrived in Indianapolis on a snowy morning in 1984. The Blue and White eventually replaced the Chicago Bears as his #1 team, and Super Bowl XLI was a dream come true.