2. Who’s the Colts’ starting quarterback?
The earliest Carson Wentz could be activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list is Sunday – and if he is, he’ll start against the Raiders. If Wentz does not clear protocols, rookie Sam Ehlinger will get the nod. Ehlinger practiced this week as the Colts’ starting quarterback and feels ready for the challenge if he does need to make his first NFL start in a potential playoff-clinching game.
But Ehlinger has been preparing to start for a while now – Reich named him the Colts’ backup quarterback in early November, a couple weeks after he was activated from injured reserve. He said something interesting on Wednesday about the adjustment he’s had to make to taking mental reps – this from a guy who was a four-year starter at the University of Texas and has had to learn how to adjust to being a backup this year.
“For me, it starts with having a plan at the line of scrimmage and knowing what your responsibility is on each given play,” Ehlinger said. “It’s very easy for guys that aren’t necessarily taking the physical rep to just watch your position and say, okay, I’m going to think through whatever he does. I’ve tried to make an emphasis to where, I’m sitting behind him and at practice, I’m always going through the same footwork, going through the same drop and seeing the defense and going through, what would I do? I
“I know Carson is going to do it exactly right, but I’m testing myself as well. So for that, that mental space, that’s the way I’ve tried to capitalize on the time I’ve had watching Carson. It’s not necessarily doing exactly what Carson does on every play, which I mean pretty much 99 percent of the time he’s doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. So, it’s a good guy to watch. But just coming to the line of scrimmage and making a decision for myself opposed to just watching what he does.”
It’s hard not to be impressed and encouraged by the way Ehlinger is able to communicate the responsibilities of his job. Head coach Frank Reich has lauded Ehlinger’s “it factor” for months – and, coupled with his athleticism, it’s why the Colts have been comfortable all season with Ehlinger as their backup.
Again, we won’t know until Sunday if Wentz will play or not. And while Ehlinger is ready, Wentz will be too – the Colts conducted all their meetings virtually this week, and because Wentz has started 16 games this season, he’s in a good place to handle missing a week of practice and then starting on Sunday – better than when he had to do that while recovering from two sprained ankles back in Week 3.
“The good news is unlike when this happened in Week 3 where Carson wasn’t available the whole week – he still hadn’t had a training camp,” Reich said. “He had barely practiced at that point. But now, we’ve had a whole year of practice so we’ve got a lot of accumulated reps. So, if he’s able to get himself back and ready, we’re confident. I feel like we’re at a much, much better spot that we were in Week 3 when he didn’t practice.”