It has been 12 days since Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz exited practice with some discomfort in his left foot, and eight days since Wentz had surgery on that foot, sidelining him 5-12 weeks.
For the first 11 days that Wentz was out, all of the first-team snaps at quarterback had gone to Jacob Eason, the second-year player out of Washington.
That changed Tuesday when rookie Sam Ehlinger split the starting reps with Eason after an impressive showing against the Colts’ second-team defense over the last few days.
Eason had a much better day than Ehlinger, going 9-of-10 passing (90.0%) during 11-on-11s compared to the rookie’s 5-of-11 (45.5%), but it’s safe to say the Colts officially have a quarterback competition until Wentz returns from injury.
“Competition is great,” Eason said when asked about the battle with Ehlinger. “I mean every position has competition, especially during training camp. In that QB room, we have a great relationship, but we’re always competing. I think we feed off each other’s energy and we sit there and we talk to each other during meetings and bounce ideas off each other – coaches included. That competition breeds a better result, so I’m all about it.”
While there are no questions about Eason’s physical ability, standing at 6’6”, 231 with a rocket arm, questions do remain about his aggressiveness and decision-making on the field. He has shown slight improvement since his time with the starters, and much of that is because of the reps he is receiving.
“I think it’s just the mental game,” Eason said. “A lot of it – actually getting reps this year compared to last year and being out there with the ones and the twos, seeing how people move, seeing how safeties are moving, how corners are moving, and my guys, the speed of my guys. A lot of it is just coming all together and I’m feeling a lot more smooth and efficient this week compared to the start.”
While Eason is heading into year two, he hardly received any reps last year as the third quarterback behind Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett. He will need to make the most out of these reps now and show that he can improve and stack good days as he tries to prove he can be a capable starter.
For Ehlinger, he’s kind of the opposite of what Eason is in terms of playstyle. Ehlinger excels at making quick, decisive decisions with the football in his hands and brings a mobile aspect to the position that Eason is not capable of. The questions surrounding Ehlinger are from the fact he is a little on the small side (6’1”, 222) and does not possess the typical arm strength needed in the NFL.
“I think that’s for everybody else to determine,” Ehlinger said when asked if his lack of arm talent was an issue. “I know there is a lot of really successful quarterbacks in this league that don’t necessarily have the five-star-talent arm, but they have a great mind and know where to go with the ball with anticipation, and they’ve played a long time with that.”
Watching training camp over the past few weeks, you have noticed a sizeable progression in Ehlinger’s game as he gets more comfortable in the offense and going up against NFL-caliber players every day.
“I would say overall understanding and comfortability in the offense,” Ehlinger explained when asked where his biggest jump has been in camp. “Week one was kind of like, ‘Oh shoot, first NFL practice. What’s the speed going to look like?’ Now, understanding what that looks like, the layout, the speed and really being able to get into the details of what it takes to be successful on each given play.”
Both of these quarterbacks are incredibly young and desperately trying to make the most of the opportunity they have before them. If Wentz’s recovery ends up being on the back end of the given timeline, there is a chance one of these guys will be leading the Colts’ offense for multiple weeks in the regular season.
“I think every day is attacking each rep and going in after practice, watching, reviewing it and learning from it and growing from it,” Eason said. “So, every day we come out here is an opportunity to get better and learn and grow, I think especially with the quarterback room – with such a young room – I think we’re doing that pretty well.”
Head coach Frank Reich said today that Eason will be the starter for their upcoming preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. The expectation is Ehlinger will come in potentially around the middle of the second quarter. Both quarterbacks will certainly be amped and ready to prove they have what it takes to lead this offense whenever they are called upon.
Who do you expect to win between Eason and Ehlinger? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
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