Colts QB steps out of shadows

One of the biggest decisions Indianapolis Colts Coach Jim Caldwell has in front of him this weekend is whether to keep two quarterbacks on the roster or three. And if he decides to keep just two, does he keep Curtis Painter or Tom Brandstater?

And if he keeps three, is Brandstater or Painter the No. 2 guy?

There’s a pretty good case for keeping Brandstater, and after the Colts’ final pre-season game last night at Lucas Oil Stadium, it looks like the youngster from California should be the back-up behind No. 18.

The Colts have at times kept just one true QB behind future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning to free up a roster spot for another position. But with Jim Sorgi gone and Painter’s performance inconsistent (I’m being kind here), Caldwell might want to think about keeping Brandstater, a Fresno State grad and Denver Broncos cast-off.

For the handful of people who stayed for the entire Colts game last night, Brandstater looked pretty impressive in the exhibition against the Cincinnati Bengals. He completed 10 of 18 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns. But more importantly he had a presence on the field that Painter has never shown.

Brandstater consistently found open receivers, and exhibited poise and confidence that had a few in the stands wondering if this guy could really run the Colts offense if Manning (gasp!) went down with an injury. During a late-game two-point conversion, Brandstater had to check down to a fourth receiver before getting the ball into the end zone. That’s not easy for a veteran, let alone a guy who has scarcely seen any action in one NFL season.

Also consider that Painter has had well over a year to come to grips with the Colts offense, Brandstater just more than two months. Painter completed barely 50 percent of his passes this pre-season playing mostly with first and second stringers, while Brandstater completed 66 percent of his passes playing with guys who will be working back down at the loading dock next week.

When it comes to Colts President Bill Polian, it’s always about a cost-benefit analysis.

Now I don’t want to get ahead of myself on the benefit side, but Brandstater, who turns 26 on Oct. 21, could be (could be!) the first guy on the Colts roster who has a legitimate chance of some day replacing the 34-year-old Manning. That’s likely four or five seasons away. And Brandstater would have to prove he could do what he did last night on a consistent basis against No. 1 defenses. That's no small mountain to scale.

Still, Brandstater looks like he could be a very nice insurance policy. And wouldn’t it be nice if the Colts win their first 14 games again, that they actually have a legitimate shot at an undefeated season when Caldwell and Polian decide to rest Manning.

So what’s the cost?

About $400,000 for the Colts this year. That’s not much of the Colts $130 million player payroll. Denver drafted Brandstater in the sixth round, and signed him to a four-year, $1.6 million deal, with a $124,000 signing bonus. He would have earned an additional $2.285 million through final-year escalators. The Colts wouldn’t have to worry about that right now, but if he’s as good as I think he could be (and I’m not alone here) the Colts will eventually have to pay up to retain him.

So why did the Broncos ax Brandstater? Simple; Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn acquisitions. In the end, keeping those two high-profile signal callers of questionable ability could look pretty unwise if Brandstater pans out as well as some scouts think he could.

Brandstater is low cost and has at least moderate, if not high, potential. Sounds like Polian’s type of guy—at least for now.

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