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COLUMN

More waiting for Harnish as Colts sign Hasselbeck

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Backup spot goes to former Seahawks star for now

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 8:19 pm

Everyone wants to know what Matt Hasselbeck signing with the Indianapolis Colts means for Chandler Harnish.

(And by “everyone,” I mean Harnish's friends and family from northern Indiana and Northern Illinois University.)

It's not complicated. Harnish is headed for the No. 3 quarterback spot again next season.

The Colts signed Hasselbeck on Tuesday to a reported two-year, $8 million deal. He's a veteran, a great player and by all accounts a great person. They want him as an insurance policy and a veteran mentor for starter Andrew Luck and Harnish. Hasselbeck brings the right character for the job.

So the bad news for Harnish, the former Norwell High School standout, is that the departure of Drew Stanton to Arizona made him the Colts' No.2 quarterback for less than a week.

Yet there is a silver lining: Harnish, along with Luck, will benefit from Hasselbeck's experience and coach-on-the-field persona.

Hasselbeck won't be some disgruntled old veteran who undermines the young starter, seeking to pounce on the job any way possible. Hasselbeck has had his day in the sun, throwing for 34,517 career yards and leading the Seattle Seahawks for most of the 2000s, reaching one Super Bowl. He knows the end is near.

Hasselbeck saw the career writing on the wall last season when he became the backup to Jake Locker at Tennessee. Locker is a promising talent, but he's not a budding superstar like Luck.

So Hasselbeck, released Sunday by the Titans, pursued the smart angle for a quarterback who will be 38 this season. He accepted a deal with a playoff contender that also happens to be a class organization.

The Colts used Stanton last season as a sounding board for Luck and Harnish, but Stanton has not been where Hasselbeck has been. There will be valuable insights that Hasselbeck can offer – to both Luck and Harnish – as the Colts install new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's more West Coast-oriented offense. It's a variation of what Hasselbeck has run well over the course of his career.

I don't believe the signing of Hasselbeck changes the faith the Colts have that Harnish can grow into the role of primary backup quarterback down the road.

The sudden availability of a veteran with the skills and personality of Hasselbeck was simply too much for Colts general manager Ryan Grigson to pass up.

If Luck goes down, Hasselbeck's body of work makes him the kind of “insurance policy” that brings comfort. Unlike oldster Kerry Collins, who had mentally retired before trying to return with the Colts in 2011, Hasselbeck remains vital. Like most veterans, the idea of a potential Super Bowl ring undoubtedly motivates his moves, too.

“His body of work, intangibles, and extensive league experience speak for themselves,” Grigson said in a statement released by the team. “Those factors, plus his familiarity with our offensive scheme, will make him a great asset to our team and its vision as we move forward.”

Last week, Grigson mentioned the team has been pleased with the progress of Harnish. But he also said he would bring in competition at all positions.

They demonstrated their commitment to Harnish during the season last year when he was released and signed to the practice squad. While on the practice squad, Harnish traveled to away games, a perk that practice squad players do not normally enjoy.

The idea was to give Harnish extra insight into the pro game by being on the sideline, often next to quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.

Harnish had a chance to go to another team last season when it wanted to sign him off the Colts practice squad. He talked with the Colts at that time and decided to stay with the franchise, so he has no doubt the team has plans for him as he moves forward.

Harnish assumed he had a real chance at the No. 2 spot when Stanton signed with the Arizona Cardinals. That's not the case now, although situations can change. If Hasselbeck's healthy and productive in camp, he'll be the No.2 guy. They wouldn't have signed him otherwise. Patience still needs to be a Harnish virtue.

But an old adage applies to the situation. Hasselbeck will be one play away from starting and Harnish will be two plays away. Things change rapidly in the NFL.

Hasselbeck's signing means Harnish's time is not quite here as the Colts' primary backup quarterback. The window remains fully open down the road.

This new reality will require Harnish's usual modus operandi: Hard work with great attitude. That won't change.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.