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Hasselbeck embraces role as Colts quarterback mentor

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The veteran serves as sounding board for Luck, Harnish

Friday, September 13, 2013 - 8:52 pm

INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Hasselbeck believes in paying it forward. He also values being a winner. Put those two things together and it's clear why he's with the Indianapolis Colts.

Hasselbeck is able to help starter Andrew Luck and practice-squad quarterback Chandler Harnish grow as quarterbacks and, in the process, contribute to a potential Super Bowl contender.

“I wasn't planning on coming here, I certainly was not,” Hasselbeck said about joining the Colts as a free agent. “With (other offers), except for one, they were teams that were rebuilding and not going to be relevant in February. I really wanted to be on a good team and it was just a situation where the Colts were pretty aggressive in terms of contact immediately after I was released.

“It became clear that this was a good team; something special is here.”

Hasselbeck, who turns 38 on Sept. 25, is in his 15th season of a strong career that includes 34,517 yards passing, 201 touchdowns, a great run and Super Bowl appearance with the Seattle Seahawks and three Pro Bowls. Originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers, he spent the last two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

Joining the Colts put him in the position of knowing he'll be a backup to Luck – who took every snap last season as a rookie – but embracing that role.

“I definitely had a good feeling about Andrew as a player and a person and it's a chance to be relevant in February,” Hasselbeck said. “In a sense, you pay it forward to a young guy. In this case, two younger guys, but I didn't know it at the time.”

As much as Hasselbeck is a helpful sounding board for Luck, he's also been a boost to Harnish, the Norwell High School alum who is also in his second season.

Harnish is on the practice squad, with all the uncertainty that often entails, but it's also a position with which Hasselbeck can empathize.

“He definitely has a team that believes in him, likes him and has invested in him,” Hasselbeck said. “I'm sure it would be easy to get down early this year because he's on the practice squad and probably had hopes of being on the roster. I totally get that. I was there.”

Hasselbeck spent his entire first season on the Packers squad before being a seldom-used backup to Brett Favre for two seasons. He worked as holder on field goals and extra points his second and third seasons.

“Sometimes things are outside your control,” he said. “You're competing against not only people at your position on the team, but anyone in the world they can find at your position. Or, in (Harnish's) case, competing against other positions and roster spots.”

Hasselbeck shared an anecdote from his practice-squad season.

“Our backup, Doug Pederson, broke his jaw late in a game and they chose to make a wide receiver our third-string quarterback instead of bringing me up from the practice squad,” he said. “They would have had to cut somebody to bring me up and it would have been a defensive lineman. It wasn't so much about me as it was another roster position.

“In Chandler's case, I don't know what position group you would point to, but he's competing against that,” Hasselbeck continued. “As long as the team has invested in you and is committing to developing you, it's a good situation, and I know that's the situation here.”

As for Hasselbeck's role with Luck, he's both an insurance policy and mentor.

Luck has demonstrated he's a student of the game and soaks information from a variety of sources. Hasselbeck also points to the direction of quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen as boost to the young quarterbacks' growth.

Hasselbeck provides the on-field perspective.

“We have coaches who are really good; no one needs me to coach,” Hasselbeck said. “But I try to simplify things. I try to break things down. I jokingly say to the coaches sometimes, 'Can you say that in words even I can understand?' But I think if you simplify things, you can play fast.”

An example of Hasselbeck's contribution:

“There's a corner blitz teams like to bring all throughout the NFL,” he said. “It could be a distraction or you would worry about it some. I'll say something like, 'This defensive coordinator, I watched seven games and they only brought it when we had the ball on the left hash and in the I formation. It doesn't mean they can't bring it some other way, but in seven games, 21-for-21, you have to have your antennae up to it then. The rest of the day, you're probably good. No reason to chase a ghost.'

“Now, if I was his coach, I couldn't say that to him, but since I'm not, it's kind of 'You do what he says, but just also know this.' Little things like that. People have said those things to me. It's not my original thoughts, usually.”

Hasselbeck's perspective and attitude make him a good fit for the Colts.

The Colts, in turn, are a good fit for Hasselbeck as he pays it forward. He said he felt a similar role with the Titans last season with Jake Locker and Rusty Smith.

Now it continues with Luck and Harnish.

“So many older guys were so helpful to me,” Hasselbeck said. “Really, really helpful, from Favre to Doug Pederson to Rick Mirer to Jeff George to Trent Dilfer, guy after guy after guy. It's a good feeling to sort of give back and watch them.”