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Colts’ Chuck Pagano non-committal on Tolzien or Morris question

Chuck Pagano

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The odds of Andrew Luck being available for the Sept. 10 opener against the Los Angeles Rams continue to dwindle, leaving the Indianapolis Colts facing a not-so-minor dilemma:

Scott Tolzien or Stephen Morris?

If Chuck Pagano’s mind is made up, he wasn’t in a sharing mood following Saturday night’s 19-15 win over the Dallas Cowboys during which each of Luck’s understudies distinguished himself.

“I am not going to comment or say anything right now,’’ he said. “I think we all saw some good things out of both guys.

“We won’t know until we look at the tape and really study everybody. It was great for the team and great for those guys, both those guys. We needed to win a football game . . . I am happy for those guys.’’

But.

Scott Tolzien or Stephen Morris?

The time for Luck to be taken off the physically unable to perform list and get enough practice time to be adequately prepared for the Rams is short, probably  already past. He hasn’t practiced with his teammates since the last week of December and the Colts will have only six practices before their opener with the Rams.

Even though Luck has started 76 games, including the playoffs, it’s folly at this point to believe he can simply come off PUP, practice a few times and be up to speed.

That in mind, it’s hard to imagine Pagano, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and general manager Chris Ballard haven’t already reached consensus on Plan B. And based on how they’ve handled the preseason, it’s hard to imagine they’ll sit Tolzien and elevate Morris.

Just a hunch.

Tolzien has received virtually all of the work with the starting unit while Morris’s practice reps were severely cut for two weeks as the coaching staff wanted to get a better look at rookie Phillip Walker. To suddenly thrust Morris into the starter’s role with so little preparation would seem counterproductive.

That’s especially true on the heels of the Pittsburgh game. While Morris continued to be productive – he’s now led a touchdown drive in each of his seven preseason appearances as a Colt – Tolzien shook off two lackluster games with a solid evening. He led a game-opening TD drive, suffered an interception, then engineered a 9-play, 50-yard drive in the second quarter that led to Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal.

On three possessions, Tolzien completed 7-of-10 passes for 123 yards with no touchdowns, the one interception and a 72.1 passer rating.

Morris? Again, he was productive: 12-of-16, 143 yards, no TDs, no interceptions, a 101.8 rating.

“I thought they managed things well,’’ Pagano said. “I thought they made good decisions. I thought they spread the ball around.’’

Externally, the noise has risen for the Colts to turn to Morris until Luck returns. What must be mentioned, though, is everybody generally gravitates to the QB not starting when the starter isn’t lighting it up.

Morris, who has yet to step on the field for a regular-season game, has emerged as the people’s choice. They’ve noticed his decided preseason edge over Tolzien the last two summers:

  • Morris has directed 28 drives that have consisted of eight touchdowns, four field goals and 16 punts. He’s suffered only six three-and-outs. His seven-game passing totals: 75-of-112, 879 yards, five TDs, one interception, a 101.7 passer rating. Most of his work has come against second- and third-string competition.
  • Tolzien has been under center for 30 possessions and produced three TDs, four field goals and 17 punts. He’s had 12 three-and-out drives. His seven-game stat line: 60-of-91, 607 yards, two TDs, two interceptions, an 83.0 rating. The majority of his snaps has come early in games when front-liners are on the field.

Against the Steelers, Tolzien appeared more comfortable and decisive.

“I felt good,’’ he said. “I feel like in each game, you get a little more comfortable; the play calls, anticipate those, and the guys in the huddle. It is just the whole sequence of things, even just the pregame stuff leading up to the game.

“It is still a work in progress.’’

He quickly defused a question dealing with being pressured by Morris.

“I’ll flip the switch right there,’’ Tolzien said. “Stephen Morris has done a heck of a job. He’s been awesome. I really admire the way he has worked behind the scenes. Day-in and day-out he has been great in our quarterback room for everybody.

“It just goes to show you that if you put in the time, it gives you confidence and you can ultimately go out there and play well. As far as feeling pressure on myself, I feel the most pressure internally. It’s always been that way for me.’’