When looking at the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback room, there's been quite a bit of change since the end of the 2020 season. Philip Rivers is now coaching high school football in Alabama, while Jacoby Brissett is with the Miami Dolphins.
Even the loss of former offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni to the Philadelphia Eagles means the only person who is in the same position they were a few months ago is head coach Frank Reich.
With a new starting quarterback acquired via trade after he was run out of Philadelphia, a backup who has not even taken a preseason snap let alone a regular-season snap, and a third-stringer who many thought could go undrafted, what can the Colts expect from the most important position in football this year?
Let’s break it down.
When the Philadelphia Eagles placed Wentz on the trading block this offseason, it was easy to link him to the Colts. he has had a very close relationship with Reich since he was drafted to Philadelphia, and the two had still kept in contact even after Reich became the head coach in Indianapolis.
Wentz experienced his best season as a pro under Reich (Philly's offensive coordinator) in 2017. It’s not hard to see why most would think he fits well with the Colts.
The Colts thought this as well, as the team traded a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-rounder that could turn into a first-round pick for Wentz back in February. After deliberating the move and speaking with Reich and owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard pulled the trigger. Ballard trusted Reich’s conviction, and the Colts are hoping this move will give the franchise a long-term solution at quarterback.
When you hear the head coach speak, you can tell he’s excited to have Wentz onboard.
“You can feel his presence physically on the field,” Reich said. “He’s a dominant physical specimen for the position and you feel that when he’s out there.”
Wentz is a dynamic athlete. He can extend plays with his legs and make plays outside of the pocket if the play breaks down. He is a very good thrower of the deep ball, as multiple Colts skill players have commented on this aspect of his game throughout OTAs. Look for the Colts’ offense to look much more like it did back in 2018 with Andrew Luck, as Wentz has a similar skillset to the former Colts great.
However, we cannot dismiss the fact that Wentz did not play well last year for the Eagles. At all. Wentz totaled 16 touchdowns and his 15 interceptions were tied for the most in the league while taking 50 sacks (second-most in the league.) This was only in 11.5 games, as Wentz was benched in favor of the rookie Jalen Hurts in the 12th game of the season and never saw the field after that.
Wentz’s play last year is a culmination of many factors. The Eagles’ offensive line was decimated by injuries. The wide receivers did Wentz zero favors in helping the quarterback to succeed. Coaching and scheme played a role as well, with former Eagles' head coach Doug Pederson being fired at year's end.
But Wentz cannot be absolved from blame. Many times, he tried to play 'hero ball,' getting him into trouble and forcing avoidable turnovers. There were times where he would hold onto the ball too long, causing unnecessary sacks.
Other times, Wentz would miss open receivers with errant throws and bad mechanics. These are aspects of his game that will all need correcting if he hopes to revive his career with the Colts.
In Indianapolis, Wentz has a fresh start and every chance to succeed. He is reunited with a familiar coach and play-caller who he trusts in Reich. The guys catching the ball from him include a former Pro Bowler in T.Y. Hilton, and two young receivers looking to break out in Michael Pittman, Jr. and Parris Campbell.
Wentz is surrounded by a much better supporting cast than he had in Philadelphia, one that boasts one of the best offensive lines in the league and one of the deepest running back groups with a budding star in Jonathan Taylor.
With the Colts, Wentz does not need to play 'hero ball' all the time. He does not need to carry the team on his back every Sunday to get a victory. Wentz needs to be disciplined and play within the offense, working on bettering himself and trusting his teammates to make plays when called upon.
Colts fans should not expect to see an MVP-caliber Wentz right out of the gate. Even with the familiarity in Reich’s offense, there will be an adjustment period.
However, I think we can expect Reich to tailor the offense to Wentz’s strengths and put him in positions to succeed. The Colts will be competitive with Wentz, and as time goes on this year we will see Wentz return to his form from 2018-19.
A fourth-round pick of the Colts in 2020, Eason was labeled as a project coming out of college. Nobody could deny the arm talent he possessed, but it was his mechanics and mental processing of the game that needed work for him to be ready to play at the next level.
Unfortunately, we still do not know much about the former Georgia and Washington quarterback. Due to the pandemic, there was no offseason work last year and no preseason games for him to receive live reps.
The extent of Eason’s work was working after practice with former QBs coach and current offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, and working out pre-game with Brady on routes based on the Colts’ game plan for that week.
Eason used last season as a year of learning, soaking in everything he could from Rivers and Brissett and trying to take his game to the next level mentally. The Colts were pleased with how the rookie handled himself and kept his head down and worked.
Now as the young quarterback approaches Year 2, he feels much more comfortable in the system and coaches are noticing that he has continued to work this offseason.
“Physically you always knew that he could do it,” Brady said of Eason. “But mentally you could tell that he took that next step, that he had grown in that area. Whether it’s making checks at the line, recognizing coverages, recognizing pressures, I thought he did a great job with that.”
The Colts are pleased with Eason’s progression mentally as he prepares to take over the backup quarterback role this year. He has been working on his mechanics as well, having spent the last few months out in California working with throwing guru Tom House. House has previously worked with stars like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Andrew Luck.
The biggest clue that the Colts have confidence in Eason is that the team did not go out and sign a veteran to be the backup to Wentz. When training camp and preseason come around, fans and media alike will get their first glimpse of Eason and can see if this confidence is justified.
A pick that many did not see coming was when the Colts selected Ehlinger out of Texas in the sixth round of this year’s draft.
Ehlinger is a 6-foot-1, 222-pound quarterback who lead Texas to 27 wins in his college career, the fourth-most in school history. He is only the seventh two-time captain in Texas football history.
So, what was the thing that drove Ballard to take Ehlinger with pick No. 218?
“Whatever ‘it’ is, he has it,” Ballard said after the draft. “He’s been highly productive at Texas, and he’s won a lot of games as a starting quarterback.”
Ehlinger has many of the uncoachable traits the Colts look for. He has fantastic character and is a proven winner at the college level.
Ehlinger's leadership instincts are evident after being a two-time captain in Austin, and his competitiveness jumps off the tape. It’s easy to see why Ballard and the Colts' front office would take a chance on Ehlinger with the kind of football character he possesses.
As far as the role the rookie will play for the Colts, he will be competing with Eason for the backup quarterback job and a spot on the roster. Eason is the clear favorite to be the backup, but Ehlinger will certainly compete and push for time in the preseason.
One aspect of Ehlinger’s game to keep an eye on is the ability to make plays with his legs. He had 33 rushing touchdowns in his four years at Texas, and one could wonder if the Colts might flirt with the idea of creating a package similar to how the New Orleans Saints have used Taysom Hill in the past.
For this reason, and factoring in his football character, there is a chance Ehlinger makes the team as the third quarterback.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMooreSI.