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INDIANAPOLIS – Now comes the most excruciating wait of Chandler Harnish's life. Is that overly dramatic? Maybe. It's also true.
Harnish made a solid case for inclusion on the Indianapolis Colts' 53-man roster as a third quarterback, throwing for 162 yards and directing all of the Colts' scores in their 20-16 win over Cincinnati in the final preseason game Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Harnish, the former Norwell High School standout, played well at times this preseason and looked like a wide-eyed rookie at other times. Now, sometime today, the Colts coaches will let him know if he stays or goes.
“I was pretty nervous, anxious, going into the game,” Harnish said. “Right now, I feel I've done all I can do.”
Harnish expects the next few hours to be a challenge. He was picked with the No.253 and last pick in the NFL Draft, with those odds stacked against him.
“I feel like I'm a part of this team,” he said. “I know the Colts have great management and they're going to make the right decision. Whatever that decision is, I'll support them 100 percent. I can't thank them enough for giving me this opportunity.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano did not say which way the team is leaning on keeping a third quarterback. If they release Harnish, he could be picked up by another team. That's a risk the Colts would take if they have visions of re-signing him to the practice squad.
Pagano was asked if Harnish's play made the decision easier or harder on whether to keep him. “That's a pretty good question,” Pagano said.
In four preseason games, Harnish completed 27 of 47 passes for 406 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 91.3. He completed 9 of 16 passes for 162 yards Thursday.
“Chandler's played well all along,” Pagano said. “He's had some rough starts when he gets in there. But once Chandler calms down, he's been able to be productive and move this offense, so he's definitely a guy that's in the mix.”
Harnish said he thought he was only going to play the second half against Cincinnati, but Pagano decided to play starting quarterback Andrew Luck and backup Drew Stanton only one series apiece.
Harnish's first two series resulted in negative yardage. His third series was a three-and-out.
Then Harnish put two quick touchdowns on the board, completing a couple of nice passes, including a 32-yard throw that was converted on a circus catch by Kris Adams. Adams, like Harnish, is on the bubble and awaiting his fate today. Colts led 14-13 at the half and both of the Harnish-led drives were less than a minute long.
His third TD drive, in the fourth-quarter, culminated by a 42-yard scoring pass to Dominique Jones, was an eight-play, 73-yard drive lasting 4 minutes, 13 seconds.
But Harnish's play was mixed enough over the course of the preseason that he couldn't walk off the field assured that the Colts will keep a third quarterback.
The opportunities have been there for Harnish to show what he can do. He has displayed his positive attributes: He's a hard worker, a willing learner with a strong arm and some excellent mobility.
His passing accuracy hasn't been what he'd like at times, and the speed of the game has caused him some problems, too. He has held the ball too long occasionally – a common mistake for rookie quarterbacks – and taken some sacks. Yet he has finished strong every game.
“Honestly, I think I had some doubts (coming in),” Harnish said. “I knew I've always been a player, a playmaker, more so in college you can get away with that on your feet. Sometimes I question my own drop-back ability, my pure pocket passing ability. But these are great coaches who care and put in the time with me.
“I feel I showed the fans, our coaches and the management here that I can play,” Harnish said. “I still have a long way to go, definitely, but there's an upside there.”
If the Colts keep Harnish, the idea would be to groom him further, in anticipation that he could end up as the No.2 man behind Luck down the road.
Stanton, who was acquired in part to help Luck navigate his first NFL season, has aspirations of competing for a starting position with another team and seems unlikely to want to remain in Indianapolis in the years ahead.
The question is whether the Colts will want use a roster spot on a third quarterback when they have other needs. Would another running back or linebacker with special teams skills be able to contribute more significantly? The Colts could use Harnish as a special teams player. He's tough enough. But the list of teams who put quarterbacks on special teams is not a list you'll find anywhere.
It's tough to predict what will happen next. This is the life of a player on the edge of the NFL.
Harnish got his shot. He did all he could. Now he waits.