The Indianapolis Colts opened up the preseason on Sunday with a 21-18 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Lucas Oil Stadium.
We saw two young quarterbacks get their first live game snaps in the NFL and some young wide receivers making plays all over the field.
So, after Week 1 of the preseason, who helped and who hurt their chances of carving out a prominent role on this Colts team? Let’s take a look.
QBs Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger
The Colts gave each of their young quarterbacks a half against the Panthers to prove what they had. Both Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger had solid performances showing they could lead the offense to success. Eason went 15-of-21 (71.4%) for 183 yards while Ehlinger went 10-of-15 (66.6%) for 155 yards and an interception.
For Eason, he excelled in the two-minute drill to end the first half, hitting Mike Strachan and Quartney Davis for chunk plays before Jordan Wilkins ran it in for the score. Eason was at his best when he was decisive with the ball and could make quick decisions, allowing him to rip the ball to his receivers.
“Jacob, the two-minute drive was a clinic reel,” head coach Frank Reich told reporters after the game. “He had a couple of lasers and really looked good. He put the ball on the ground one time and made one or two errors, mental mistakes we’ll clean up but was proud of Jacob. I thought he went out there and showed himself well.”
Eason was sacked three times, turning the ball over on a strip-sack deep in Panthers territory. He still needs to work on his pocket presence and knowing when to get rid of the ball and make fast decisions. But Eason showed good accuracy and stayed poised, which is a good start for a young quarterback.
For Ehlinger, he came out a little shaky and threw a bad interception on his first drive. The former Texas quarterback did not become discouraged as he rebounded nicely to lead the Colts on two scoring drives in the second half, displaying great touch on the deep ball and fantastic accuracy to receivers Tarik Black and Tyler Vaughns.
“I think after that (interception) I was like, ‘Okay, I just have to play my game,’” Ehlinger said. “When you try to control it too much, that’s what happens. Luckily, the same route that was the interception was the one to Tyler Vaughns down in the red zone. So, I got to make up for it on that route. I let that one go a little bit better.”
Ehlinger’s mobility was on full display, leading the Colts in rushing with 30 yards as he picked up multiple first downs with his legs and the two-point conversion to tie the game at 18. It was a nice bounce back from the interception and Ehlinger helped lead the Colts to victory.
WR Mike Strachan
It’s safe to say that Mike Strachan has pretty much solidified a spot on the 53-man roster for the Colts. His stellar play on the practice field translated to the game as the rookie put up three catches for 57 yards. Whether it was a slant route or up over the top, Strachan proved to be a handful for the Panthers’ secondary.
“My goal is to do my job every day,” Strachan said after the game. “Each play do my job. Go hard every route and everything else will take care of itself.”
Strachan did have a drop that ended a drive in the first half, but the young wide receiver is certainly carving out a role on this team and the Colts may have just found a gem in the seventh round.
WR Tarik Black
While probably out of contention for a spot on the final roster, Tarik Black is proving he deserves a spot on the Colts’ practice squad. The rookie out of Texas connected with his former college quarterback in the second half on 3 catches for 67 yards, including a 47-yard strike.
Black signed with the Colts as an undrafted rookie free agent after the draft this year and has shown to have big playmaking ability throughout training camp. It would be wise of the Colts to keep him on their practice squad in case injuries occur to the wide receiver group throughout the year.
The Colts are still searching for an answer at left tackle until Eric Fisher can return from a torn Achilles. Sunday proved they still have plenty of work to do in this area.
Will Holden, Sam Tevi, and Julién Davenport all struggled against a Panthers’ defensive line made up primarily of backups.
Holden gave up a sack on Eason that lead to a fumble recovered by the Panthers and was also called for a holding penalty later in the game that stalled a drive. Tevi gave up a sack from the right tackle position on Sunday and struggled to give his quarterbacks time to throw.
While the focus of training camp has revolved around the quarterback position, left tackle is becoming a real concern for the Colts as they head into the season. Neither of the three options has performed very well and the Colts need to see better performances from this group. With All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson (foot) and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly (elbow) currently out due to injury, the left side of the Colts offensive line has serious issues to tend to.
Which players do you think benefitted or not during Sunday's game? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
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