INDIANAPOLIS – Chandler Harnish started his career at Northern Illinois with a redshirt season in 2007.
After that, Harnish started 46-of-47 career games, throwing for almost 9,000 yards and 68 touchdowns, while rushing for almost 3,000 yards and 24 more scores.
His first season with Indianapolis was almost like a redshirt year. Harnish was inactive for the first five games, then spent the final 11 weeks on the practice squad. He found 2012 to be a beneficial experience.
"Last season was a great season. It's always fun when you win but more than that, I was blessed to be in a great quarterback room with Andrew Luck and Drew Stanton," said Harnish. "Coach (Clyde) Christensen was huge in my development. I definitely felt I improved throughout the season. I definitely learned a lot about the game.
"More than that, I learned how to prepare. I think I came into the NFL and was a little immature about my preparation. I probably didn't spend as much time in my playbook and just preparing for teams. I really learned the preparation aspect fully through Drew being our mentor and Coach Christensen really teaching us the ways. I think the relationship he had with Peyton Manning had an influence on my maturation as well."
Harnish is back as an understudy to Luck. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck has been added, too, and Harnish can benefit from that relationship.
He already sees the mental preparation exceeds the physical part of readiness.
"I would definitely say that. I would say at the professional level, the mental aspect of the game really picks up," said Harnish. "Whereas in college it's more physical, it's much more mental now. Everyone can play now. That's why they made it to this level, everyone has the talent to do what they do.
"The mental capacity is huge. You have to be smarter than your opponent, then being able to go out and play without having to think too much. The guys that can do that are those who succeed, in my eyes."
Harnish said his ability as a dual-threat quarterback in college is a thing of the past. His concentration is how to thrive at this level.
"I think becoming more and more consistent daily throwing the football is what I was able to do (last year)," said Harnish. "I really wanted to work on my passing ability and become more of a traditional, prototype quarterback, if you will, just dropping back and being more consistent throwing it, having the ball released at the right point, anticipating the routes. I definitely think Coach Clyde and I put in a lot of extra time, and it paid off."
Last spring was valuable for Harnish. After the draft, he and Stanton got a heavy dose of work when Luck had to miss work for academic reasons.
How this spring shapes up might be different with Luck and Hasselbeck here, but Harnish knows the period is ripe for growth.
"I just want to get better mentally and physically. That will help instill confidence," said Harnish. "Hopefully, the reps keep coming and (I) get more and more experience. That's the only way you get better, by being out there and playing, taking the reps against the number one defense and going full speed. If I can do that, it will help me."
Being on hand for a second season means a deeper understanding not only of the process but with the teammates with whom he will work again. The familiarity will be an asset as he trains to contribute however possible.
"I will have a better feel with the receivers. Coming in, you don't know their speed, the way they move and how to communicate with them. Now, you understand them better," said Harnish. "You're closer with them, and you've had that year of timing with them. It will be a lot easier."
Luck (339-of-627 for 4,374 yards and 23 TDs) took every snap in a rookie season that saw him
set NFL rookie records in attempts, yards and 300-yard games (six).
Luck helped produce seven wins in fourth-quarter or overtime fashion, tying the NFL seasonal record done six other times since 1970, including in 1999 and 2009 by Manning. His seven in a single season tied for the most by a veteran or rookie QB since at least 1970. The comeback performances came against Minnesota, Green Bay, at Tennessee, Miami, at Detroit, vs. Tennessee and at Kansas City.
The Colts were 9-1 in games decided by seven points or less, winning their last eight such games. By earning 11 wins, the Colts became only the fourth team to win as many as 10 games after a season of two or fewer victories.
By earning a playoff berth, the Colts joined Miami (2008) and New England (1982) on the list of teams to make the playoffs one year after going 2-14 or worse. At 11-5, Indianapolis had a nine-game improvement, tying the third-best one-season jump in history.
The Colts did not lose consecutive games last season, marking the ninth such season in franchise history (1964, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1976, 1999, 2003, 2012).
Luck joined Cam Newton as the only players with three 300 games in the first four games of a career. Against Miami in week nine, Luck threw for 433 yards to eclipse Newton's (432) previous NFL rookie record.
Luck (23) is one of eight NFL rookie quarterbacks to throw 20 or more touchdown passes. Luck set the club rookie record with four touchdown passes at Detroit.
Luck (11) was the winningest rookie QB chosen first overall since 1950, and his victory total for all rookies since 1970 tied for second-most. Luck is the only NFL rookie to exceed 4,000 yards and earn at least 10 starting wins.
Matt Hasselbeck signed as a free agent with the club on March 19. Hasselbeck, a three-time Pro Bowler, has started 152-of-194 career games over 14 seasons, completing 3,029-of-5,018 passes for 34,517 yards with 201 touchdowns and 147 interceptions. He ranks fourth among active quarterbacks in attempts, completions and passing yards and fifth in passing touchdowns.
Hasselbeck has started 11 playoff games, completing 237-of-406 passes for 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has 22 career 300-yard passing games in the regular season and two in the playoffs.
Hasselbeck was a sixth-round pick by Green Bay in 1998, then was traded to Seattle in 2001. Hasselbeck spent 10 seasons (2001-10) with Seattle, leading the team to six playoff berths and its only Super Bowl appearance in 2005. In his time with the Seahawks, he completed 2,559-of-4,250 passes for 29,434 yards, 174 touchdowns and 128 interceptions.
Hasselbeck spent 2011-12 with Tennessee. In 2011, he produced one of the best seasons of his career. His 518 attempts and 3,571 yards marked the fourth-highest seasonal franchise totals, while his completions (319) ranked third in club history.