Less than a month away from their Week 1 matchup against the visiting Seattle Seahawks, the Indianapolis Colts, once again, have found themselves in a bind at quarterback.
Following Andrew Luck’s surprising retirement just a couple seasons ago, Indianapolis has enjoyed its fair share of trips around the signal-caller carousel, enjoying stints with Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers. Just months removed from Rivers hanging up his cleats for good, general manager Chris Ballard made his move for the future acquiring disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz; a transaction inspired by the dynamic, potentially dominant Indianapolis defense where Ballard believed a talented gun-slinger could put the Colts over the top as a whole.
Fast forward to the heat of the summer, and Wentz’s ugly injury history has once again reared its head, leaving Ballard stuck with little wiggle room for a unit receiving Super Bowl buzz this offseason.
Under Wentz are the youth-inspired talents of 6-foot-5 Jacob Eason, a former five-star recruit in his second season in Indianapolis, and Sam Ehlinger, the face of Texas football over the last half-decade. The Colts have welcomed a snap-by-snap competition for the potential starting nod against Seattle and Russell Wilson.
By the looks of it, Eason wins the job outright. A stoutly framed gun-slinger with an arm built in a lab, he has every trait in the book head coaches eye in their starters under center. But, you can’t teach savvy and you can’t teach athleticism, which has led Ehlinger to raise eyebrows following Wentz heading to the sidelines.
It’s not the 40-yard darts across his body or lofty touch throws over the ranging safety, rather, Ehlinger’s prowess both inside the pocket as a commanding voice and outside the pocket as a playmaker is what has many considering he, not Eason, should earn the start for Frank Reich’s group.
“We’re just trying to make each other better,” Ehlinger said of himself and Eason. “We want to make it a tough call [for the coaches].”
A sixth-round pick of Ballard via April’s draft, Ehlinger entered the Colts facility as nothing more than a familiar face following the acquisition of Wentz. A four-year starter at Texas, Ehlinger finished his Longhorn career in the top 10 all-time within the Big 12 Conference in total yards (13,339), passing yards (11,436), and passing touchdowns (94). A leader by trade, Ehlinger checks every box unseen on the postgame box score. His confidence, ability to captain an offense, and off-script ability make it difficult to keep the 6-foot-1 signal-caller with a clipboard tethered to his hands.
With the Carolina Panthers in town for joint practices, Ehlinger and Eason’s competition elevated to new heights with an unfamiliar defense on the other side of the rock. Ehlinger, in his first live reps against an NFL-caliber defensive unit, moved the offense with speed and efficiency according to reports, working with both the starters and second-unit skill players.
While it’s not an ideal scenario for Ballard and Reich, the NFL has, and always will, conduct itself around a “next man up” mentality. Although Wentz has shown signs of major progression where Colts brass believe he could be ready to suit up against Seattle in just under a month, the progression of both Ehlinger and Eason has to be a light at the end of the tunnel if Wentz has to miss regular-season time. For Ehlinger—a crafty, sturdy-framed quarterback with a consistent knack for finding the endzone in his back pocket—his ability, coupled with his similar traits to Wentz in their movement skills and dual-threat escapability, may force the Colts’ hand into a scenario Ballard couldn’t have scripted just a few weeks ago.
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