Colts’ Chris Ballard: Jacoby Brissett is a winning football player in this league

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 24: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts warms up before preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 24, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s Jacoby Brissett’s offense now. It’s his team.

Yes, the Indianapolis Colts will take 53 players into their Sept. 8 opener against the Los Angeles Chargers, but let’s not kid ourselves. The catalyst is Jacoby Brissett.

Not Andrew Luck, who announced his retirement Saturday night following seven decorated/painful seasons.

It’s Jacoby Brissett.

The Colts were viewed as a viable Super Bowl contender with Luck under center. In the four seasons he was injury-free, Indy was 11-5, 11-5, 11-5 and 10-6, and reached the playoffs each time.

As Chris Ballard mentioned earlier this month: “This guy’s one of the top five quarterbacks in the league.’’

Now, he’s gone.

Does Brissett possess the wherewithal to pick up where Luck left off? Will a Brissett-led franchise remain a playoff contender? Or will the Colts slide back toward mediocrity?

Ballard is hearing nothing of the latter. During what was a very emotional press conference Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, he was downright defiant.

“We’ve got a good football team,’’ he said. “This is a good football team. We’re young, good on both fronts, some good, young skill players and a good young quarterback in Jacoby Brissett.

“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. The locker room loves Jacoby Brissett. They love him.’’

Spend a few minutes in the locker room, and you’ll immediately see the connection Brissett has developed with his teammates. It’s tangible.

But in the cold world of the NFL, this isn’t about how well one player interacts with everyone else. That’s especially true when we’re talking about the quarterback. It’s about 1) his ability to lead, and 2) his ability to do his job at the required level, to make those five or six plays each game that make a difference.

Ballard, Frank Reich and the team’s personnel staff have put together the strongest roster in a decade.

The offensive line is one of the NFL’s best and includes three first-round picks (Anthony Castonzo, Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson) and a second-rounder (Braden Smith). The skill group includes four-time Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton, Pro Bowl tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle and emerging running back Marlon Mack. The defense is young, promising and led by first-team All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard. The special teams triumvirate of Adam Vinatieri, Rigoberto Sanchez and Luke Rhodes is one of the NFL’s best.

So many pieces are in the place, and were put in place with the idea they would be following Luck.

No longer.

At least in the short term, everyone is saying the right things about Brissett.

Listen to Jim Irsay: “We wish Andrew only the best, and we thank him for all his efforts that he’s done as a Colt and going forward. Trust me, we’re going to be ready and show up in Los Angeles. I can promise you that. . . . We have tremendous, tremendous certainty that Jacoby is a guy that can change this narrative.’’

Listen to Luck: “Jacoby Brissett is an awesome dude. Diligent, sharp, loves football. Cannot wait to support him and see him lead this team. Excited for the future of the Colts, in large part because of Jacoby.’’

Listen to Reich: “First, personally, (for) our organization to have that kind of leadership to go from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett. Different kinds of leaders, but both elite leaders.’’

Luck informed Brissett of his retirement decision Friday. Because of the suddenness of everything, Reich and Brissett hadn’t had much of an opportunity to absorb and discuss the situation.

“Jacoby and I just had a brief conversation because this is hard for Jacoby because these guys are close,’’ Reich said. “My only comment to Jacoby was, ‘Let’s just take a couple of days to digest this and then we’ll talk after the game.’

“Jacoby was pretty emotional about this as well. They’re very close.’’

Irsay has been involved with the Colts for nearly a half-century. He’s seen it all and been involved in a lot of it. Remember March 2012? Remember the press conference announcing the Colts and Peyton Manning were parting ways?

“I was there when (Drew) Bledsoe got hurt and (Tom) Brady came on the field. ‘Who’s this skinny guy from Michigan?’’’ Irsay said of what would be a changing of the guard in New England in week 3 of 2001. “(Reich) was there for the Nick Foles thing.’’

In 2017, the 11-2 Philadelphia Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL. Backup Nick Foles stepped in and would be MVP of the Eagles’ Super Bowl championship. Reich was Philly’s offensive coordinator.

“I can see Dick Vermeil crying now, and look what happened,’’ Irsay said.

Another history lesson of overcoming a major obstacle. The St. Louis Rams were preparing for 1999 with former I.U. standout Trent Green as their quarterback. When he suffered a torn ACL during the preseason, a no-name filled in. That would be Kurt Warner, who orchestrated one of the NFL’s greatest rags-to-riches careers that included a Super Bowl title and MVP in ’99.

Irsay was effusive with his affection and appreciation for Luck. But he also was looking ahead with Brissett.

“Andrew is a special guy. He really is,’’ he said. “Uniquely talented. Seven billion people on the planet, maybe five or six can do what he can do.

“We’re hoping that it’s seven and Jacoby’s that guy.’’

When it became clear Luck would not be ready for the start of the 2017 season – his rehab from surgery on his right shoulder had stalled – Ballard believed enough in Brissett to orchestrate a trade Sept. 2 with New England. It cost him 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett, but added a young, untapped talent to the roster.

With only cursory knowledge of the playbook and playing with a flawed supporting cast, Brissett started less than two weeks after arriving in Indy. The Colts were 4-11 with him under center.

Now, Brissett is in his third year with the Colts and second in Reich’s system. He’s been getting all of the reps with the No. 1 offense since mid-April.

This isn’t 2017, when everything was lined up against Brissett succeeding. It’s 2019, and everything is in place for him to succeed.

And let’s not forget Brissett will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. A strong season means a significant contract.

As Ballard stressed Saturday night, “Don’t write the end of the story yet. Story is just starting, man.

“Everybody’s gonna write the end of the story, but I’m telling ya the story’s not over yet.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.