INDIANAPOLIS – When the Colts hit the field Sunday against Carolina, quarterback Curtis Painter will run out with the starting offense.
The decision to start Painter in an eighth consecutive game was announced by Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on Wednesday.
The decision came for various reasons. Painter still is a new player to the league and is operating in a difficult offense. Like the position he is playing, other units have experienced change during the course of the season and continuity has been difficult to achieve across the board.
Giving Painter a continued opportunity to grow as a professional and with the team he is leading is how Caldwell made the nod, and he hopes to maximize Painter's strengths.
"Curtis (Painter) has not played a whole lot of football around here for us," said Caldwell. "I think he has to be given a good, clear opportunity. There are a lot of things that happened to him out there during the course of the game that may not have always been his fault. Some of it is obviously the situation that we've put him in as well. I need to do a little bit better job of making certain he can do what he does, and not necessarily what anyone else has done around here. (We need to) get it tailored a little bit more to his strengths. I just didn't feel he has gotten an opportunity to do that as of yet, a clear opportunity. We're going to give him that opportunity."
Opportunity knocks on Sunday. Painter says it is business as usual and that he was pleased with the decision.
"Absolutely," said Painter about Sunday being business as usual. "Keep getting better, keep improving and coming off a bye week (we will try to) continue to fix some things we need to do for ourselves. Hopefully, we'll keep that going. I guess I can't say surprised (of the decision). Everybody in this locker room wants to play. I was obviously excited about getting the opportunity to continue on."
Painter's eighth start will be only the 11th time he has played for Indianapolis. He saw two season-ending appearances in 2009 as a rookie, with those being in games where Indianapolis was resting players while preparing for a playoff push. Painter saw no action in 2010. Peyton Manning took every snap during the season. With Manning injured in 2011 and always having taken the bulk of practice work, Painter never had an extended exposure in running with the front-liners. He was able to get that time in training camp, but veteran Kerry Collins opened the season for the Colts. A concussion ended the season for Collins in week three, and Painter has led the rest of the way.
Without the benefit of an offense being constructed in a way to completely enhance his talents, with injuries that have caused six different offensive line combinations to open games and occasionally missing players such as running back Joseph Addai and tight ends Dallas Clark and Brody Eldridge, Painter has labored as any young quarterback would to develop a consistent rhythm. Those factors drove Caldwell's decision, too.
"I think he's developing," said Caldwell. "I think one of the things that I don't think there's any question about in this league (is) you rarely see a young quarterback, which he is, really flourish. It's rare that they really flourish in a system that's predominantly passing. Most young guys you see, some that are making progress in this league, are able to couple abilities with a real, strong running game. That's what I think certainly is the quarterback's best friend. Until we get to the point where we probably run the ball maybe a little bit more, I just don't think we've necessarily given him an opportunity to be at his best.
"I think there were a couple of games we did, a couple of things that happened during the course of some of the games where I think he was in pretty position. I thought he was developing and coming along, and we just hit a little bit of a tailspin. Like I said, that might not have always have been his fault. Sometimes things happen you cannot see, unless you slow it down, take a look at the film, know what the parameters are in terms of what's happening with calls made, where the mistakes were made besides that position. I'm not going into all those things, but there are some. There are enough of them that I don't think that he's gotten the opportunity that he should have. We're going to let him keep rolling. I think you'll see him continue to improve."
Painter has hit 117-of-214 attempts for 1,315 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. A couple of problem areas for the team have been turnovers and third-down conversions. Indianapolis is minus-10 in turnover ratio, and the club has lost the ball quickly on its opening possessions in the last two games. The Colts have converted 45-of-133 third downs on the season, only once doing it half the time in a game. The problems in staying on the field find the club with an average possession time of 24:37 per game, and Indianapolis has not topped 29 minutes of possession time in any game this year.
Painter knows the need to have ball security and to extend possessions.
"Number one is to control turnovers. That's big," said Painter of limiting turnovers. "Control the ball and just be more consistent, try to keep us on the field longer. Third-down conversions have been a big emphasis for us, so just being better in that area, then just controlling the ball."
Like all young players, Painter only will get better with more exposure and repetitions with the offense. He feels he has progressed through the year and will continue that trend.
"I think overall just being confident in the offense and knowing what's going on," said Painter about how he feels he is developing. "Every snap you're in, you get a little more familiar with it and confident with it, also just getting in rhythm with the guys around you. Those kinds of things I think definitely help the more you're in it (the offense), whether it be practice or games."
Painter knows it will be a big boost to start games and the second halves of games with some offensive efficiency. Early momentum can help the team at those key moments.
"I think it's huge," said Painter. "We've always wanted to come into the game and get in a good rhythm and even the same coming out of halftime. Just being able to get in a rhythm and get some confidence early will help."
Seventh-year veteran Dan Orlovsky has relieved Painter in the fourth quarter of the last two games. While hoping for a greater role, he will continue to assist however he is asked.
"It's my role to be the backup, my role to do what the coaches ask me to do," said Orlovsky. "That's what they're asking me to do right now. Do I want to be out there? Of course, I've wanted to be out there for seven years now. I just have to continue to go and prepare, be ready, support Curtis like I have, try and help him any way I can. Hopefully, we can go win."