INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich understands Jacoby Brissett's predicament.
Twice, Brissett emerged as Indy's starting quarterback. Twice, he's lost it to an older player with a more accomplished resume — neither of whom owns a Super Bowl ring as he does.
Now the longtime backup to Hall of Famer Jim Kelly will try to help Brissett cope with the frustration and disappointment of making yet another major transition — this time backing up eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers.
“When the time was right I called Jacoby and told him, ‘Hey, this looks like it may happen,’” Reich said Tuesday, describing his initial conversation with Brissett. “We talked it through. Obviously, Jacoby wasn’t happy about it. He wasn’t happy about it, but he’s a great teammate, he’s a great leader. We all know that and I’m sure he’ll be good.”
All along, Reich and Colts general manager Chris Ballard have insisted they believe Brissett possesses the skills to be a full-time NFL starter, provides a locker-room presence teammates embrace and plays with the grit coaches crave. And he demonstrated all of those traits during an almost unfathomable roller-coaster ride.
Brissett made his first significant appearance as Tom Brady's replacement in 2016, going 1-1 in two starts. The following September, with Andrew Luck still recovering from shoulder surgery, Brissett was traded to Indianapolis to back up Scott Tolzien. Two weeks later, Brissett, still learning the Colts' playbook, replaced Tolzien and wound up 4-11 as the starter while enduring a league-high 52 sacks.
Luck reclaimed the starting job in 2018, leading the Colts to the playoffs and earning the league's comeback player of the year award.
But then when it looked as if Luck would be in Indy for years he retired suddenly last August. Again, Brissett inherited the starting job and led the Colts to a 5-2 start before injuring his knee and winning only two more games.
Now, less than seven months after signing a two-year deal worth $30 million, Brissett heads into his contract season as Rivers' backup. Rivers signed a one-year contract worth $25 million.
Both quarterbacks played college football at North Carolina State, though Rivers said he doesn't know Brissett well.
And though Reich knew the conversation with Brissett would not be an easy call, the decision was.
“Having been there on the inside (with the Chargers) for three years and knowing the quarterback position like I do, I was so confident that physically he (Rivers) was the right player and that he had not lost anything," Reich said.
“All of the throws I saw on film and as I went back and studied him compared to previous throws, I really didn’t notice any physical gifts diminishing at all. So then from a locker-room guy, you know how we talk about the juice in this place? This guy brings juice."
But Reich believes all is not lost for Brissett.
Indy's coaches are already talking about how to get him on the field in special packages or certain circumstances, perhaps giving him as many as seven snaps per game.
And those are not just idle words coming from Reich, who has done his best work in relief duty.
Despite making only 20 starts in his 13-year NFL career, Reich delivered two of the most memorable wins in Bills' history — the AFC East-clinching victory in 1990 and the greatest comeback in league history two years later in a wild-card game win over the Houston Oilers. The Bills reached the Super Bowl both years.
His greatest college achievement also came as a backup by taking over from Stan Gelbaugh, down 31-0 at Miami in November 1984. All Reich did was throw six second-half TD passes and lead Maryland to a 42-40 victory.
Heck, Reich wasn't even the Colts' first choice as head coach. He took the job only after New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels backed out at the last minute. And he took Indy to the playoffs in his first season as a head coach.
Now it's Brissett's turn to again show he can be ready at a moment's notice and Reich expects nothing less.
“It’s a hard time when something like this happens," Reich said. “When you look at a lot of championship teams, to me you better have a winning backup quarterback. You better have a guy that can step in there and win two or three or however many games it takes if the starter gets dinged up. We have that in Jacoby. So the message to Jacoby is that his contract year is up, so just have your best year. Whatever that looks like, have your best year this year and be ready to go."
Notes: Reich said the Colts also have not made a decision about re-signing kicker Adam Vinatieri, the NFL's career scoring leader. They want Vinatieri to continue rehabbing from surgery on his left knee first. ... The Colts announced receiver Daurice Fountain, an exclusive rights free agent, has re-signed. ... Indy also has signed free agent cornerback T.J. Carrie, a six-year veteran who played the past two seasons in Cleveland.
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