WESTFIELD, Ind. — Indianapolis Colts rookie Sam Ehlinger has closed the gap against Jacob Eason to be the team’s starting quarterback if Carson Wentz is not ready for the start of the regular season.
Ehlinger, who was selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft, split first-team practice snaps with Eason in practice Tuesday, and will continue to do so in Thursday and Friday’s joint practices against the Carolina Panthers.
“Against the Panthers in the game [on Sunday], I won’t try to split like that,” coach Frank Reich said. “We’ll just let one guy go. Jacob will probably start and Sam will probably come in whenever.”
Reich said Eason was in the “driver’s seat” to be the starter in Wentz’s absence the day the team announced that the quarterback would be out five to 12 weeks after having left foot surgery on Aug. 2. But a sign of things potentially changing occurred following Saturday’s practice, when Reich said Eason was the starter just “right now” three different times when answering one question.
Eason, who did not take a snap in a game last season after being selected in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, has a strong arm, but he’s been inconsistent in making decisions with the ball, often holding it too long in the pocket. He’s shown flashes of improvement but not to the level where the Colts feel completely comfortable going with him if necessary.
“Competition is great,” Eason said. “Every position has competition, especially in training camp. In the quarterback room we have a great relationship, but we’re always competing. Competition brings better result. I’m all about it.”
Ehlinger left Texas ranked second in school history in career completions (923), passing yards (11,436) and passing touchdowns (94). What Ehlinger lacks in arm strength, he has made up for with his ability to read a defense and being decisive in knowing where he wants to go with the ball, which has impressed the Colts coaching staff so far in training camp.
“Sam plays really smart, he has really good instincts,” Reich said. “Very quick on his feet. Accelerates his vision, good progressions, has a knack. Certainly athletic and can make plays with his feet … Sam has been really good, solid every day. It’s fair, it’s right. By switching those, you don’t feel like you’re losing much with Jacob getting reps with the twos. More about getting Sam an opportunity.”
Eason and Ehlinger split the snaps Tuesday with Wentz making his first appearance since his Aug. 2 surgery. The good news for the Colts was that Wentz watched practice in sneakers while walking without a limp. The team hopes to have a better indication of where Wentz is rehabilitation-wise after he gets past the two-week post-surgery mark.
“Very encouraging,” Reich said. “Joked with Carson in 7-on-7, said ‘You’re up.’ Good to have him back out there.”