INDIANAPOLIS — “There's a saying in football that everybody knows and everybody lives by: it's next man up.”
That was Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich’s message to his team Saturday night after their leader and quarterback Andrew Luck announced his stunning retirement from the game of football.
Now, it’s officially next man up, and it’s Jacoby Brissett’s offense heading into the start of the 2019 season.
“Although this circumstance is unique, that's a universal principle in this game, and no one is exempt,” Reich said.
Brissett has the benefit of acting as the Colts' starting quarterback in Luck's absence as he was out rehabbing a lower leg injury since the start of the offseason workout program. But as of Saturday night, it’s not another player’s place that Brissett is holding anymore; he’s the guy.
And although Luck has been considered among the league’s top quarterbacks since being selected No. 1 overall by the Colts in the 2012 NFL Draft, the organization has all the faith in the world that Brissett can keep the ship on the right path.
"We've got a good football team. This is a good football team. We're young, good on both fronts, (we have) some good young skill players and a good young quarterback in Jacoby Brissett,” general manager Chris Ballard told reporters Saturday evening. “We're not gonna ask Jacoby Brissett to be Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck was a unique, unique player, but Jacoby Brissett is a winning football player in this league. Jacoby Brissett is a rare, rare leader. He is. He's a rare human being, man. That locker room loves Jacoby Brissett. They love him."
Brissett, of course, started 15 games for the Colts in 2017 as Luck worked his way back from the shoulder surgery that would ultimately keep him out the entire season. Despite being acquired in a trade with the New England Patriots the week before the first regular season game, Brissett earned major equity in the locker room by stepping in as the starting quarterback Week 2 and navigating his way through the challenges that come with learning a brand new offense on the fly.
Although Brissett went from the team's starting quarterback one year to Luck's backup the next in 2018, he still held a firm presence in the locker room as one of its leaders and a positive force.
"Our organization, to have that kind of leadership at quarterback to go from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett, different kinds of leaders, but both elite leaders. I mean these guys are both elite — Jacoby has those qualities,” Reich said Saturday. “As a human being, as an athlete, this guy is as good as they come as a teammate."
After Luck revealed his decision to retire to Brissett only a couple days ago, Reich said it was important to give his new starter enough time to digest the news and then move forward.
"Jacoby and I just had a brief conversation, because this is hard for Jacoby now 'cause these guys are close," Reich said of Brissett and Luck. "My only comment to Jacoby was, 'Let's just take a couple days to digest this and then we'll talk after the game,' because Jacoby was pretty emotional about this as well. They're very close."
Brissett now takes over an offense that ranked seventh in yards per game in the NFL in 2018, and hopes to take even bigger leaps forward in Reich's second year guiding the offense.
There are plenty of positives to build on: the offensive line kept Luck cleaner than any other quarterback in the league in 2018, as he was sacked just 18 times. Running back Marlon Mack compiled 10 touchdowns and nearly ran for 1,000 yards in just 12 games, and Brissett now has an embarrassment of riches to throw to with guys like T.Y. Hilton, Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell.
Reich has referred to Brissett as a top-20 quarterback, and now he gets an ideal opportunity to showcase those abilities while also continuing to build on the team's momentum from last year's 10-6 campaign. As Ballard mentioned, the Colts have built a good team around the quarterback position rather than throwing resources around for a quarterback.
If the Colts are going to be successful, they plan for it to be as a team and with Brissett as the quarterback.
"I think you saw it last year as we went through the season, this is a special guy, man," Ballard said. "I'm excited to watch him play. I am."