Reggie Hayes: Colts' succession of quarterbacks: Harbaugh to Manning to Luck?

INDIANAPOLIS _ The oddest moment of the day at the NFL Combine was the most interesting, blending all sorts of Indianapolis Colts quarterback drama.

Peyton Manning, Colts quarterback of the present (technically speaking), wasn't there, but he was everywhere, his likeness on the posts to both sides of an interview dais, his name on everyone's lips.

Andrew Luck, Colts quarterback of the future, was there, but not in the room at the time, the storm of his media circus still 24 hours away.

Jim Harbaugh, Colts quarterback of the past, was front and center, admiring them both. Harbaugh can be impartial. His name is on the Colts' Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium, but his heart's in San Francisco. What better man in the middle of this Colts quarterback quandary?

After earning the nickname "Captain Comeback" with the Colts, Harbaugh, now the 49ers coach, was kicked to the curb by Indy the year they drafted Manning.

"If you're going to be replaced by someone, that's a pretty good one to be replaced by," Harbaugh said. "I kind of take pride in that."

You can't get far from Manning and Luck, not in Indy, not with the Colts' March 8 deadline looming to keep or cut Manning, and with expected No.1 pick Luck in town as part of the soon-to-be rookie class of 2012. So Harbaugh wasn't going to be able to avoid either quarterback, no matter how hard he tried.

A big chunk of early questions to Harbaugh were not about taking the 49ers to the brink of the Super Bowl. They were about Luck, the quarterback he groomed at Stanford before Harbaugh turned pro (coach).

At first, Harbaugh was coy when asked how good he considers Luck to be.

"Ever played 'spades,' a trump game?" Harbaugh said. "He's holding a lot of aces in a lot of suits."

Harbaugh paused. The media waited for him to expound. He didn't. So a reporter pushed again. What makes Harbaugh think Luck is ready for the NFL?

"He's got all the qualities, mental and physical," Harbaugh said. "He's as prepared as anybody you can find. My opinion. He's really good. How about that? He's got a lot of talent."

Harbaugh didn't quibble with the idea that Luck faces overdue pressure to live up to extreme hype.

"Fair or unfair, it's the nature of the business," Harbaugh said. "He's very equipped to deal with it. He's very mature."

He's also destined to be the Colts quarterback, sooner rather than later. Colts coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson both had their time addressing the situation after Harbaugh.

Neither Pagano nor Grigson has watched Manning throw since they arrived in Indy. Both praised the talents of Luck.

"The last guy in the last row of any stadium can tell you he's a heck of a quarterback and person," Grigson said.

The last guy can also read between the lines of the Colts leadership's body language. To his credit, Pagano mentioned he'd been talking to Manning about his rehab and how he feels. So it's not entirely frosty between Manning and the new regime. It just seems like there's no reason to get too close to a guy who's probably leaving town.

Back to Harbaugh. He was asked what he thought about Manning's "remarkable" career.

"That's exactly the right word, remarkable," Harbaugh said. "We're talking about a quarterback who's going to be talked about 50, 100 years to come. He's been that kind of player in the National Football League. Very remarkable, that's a good word."

Manning could be remarkable somewhere else the next time he plays, of course. Other teams, such as Miami – where a Manning-to-Miami fan campaign is underway – or the New York Jets or Arizona tactfully avoided the question. They can't say much anyway since, as Jets coach Rex Ryan pointed out, Manning is still with the Colts.

Commenting on Luck is fair game for everyone. Harbaugh isn't looking for a quarterback. Alex Smith is their guy, he repeated Thursday.

But if he were looking for a quarterback of the young, limitless potential variety, Luck qualifies.

"Like I said, he's one of the finest football players I've ever been around," Harbaugh said. "Is that good enough? An even better person. One of the top five guys I've ever been around. I enjoyed coaching him.

"I'm not going to like playing against him."

Harbaugh is in the Colts' Ring of Honor. Manning will be there soon enough. We're well on the way to finding out if Luck can complete that circle of quarterback greatness.


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