1. Sam Ehlinger Gets The Start
After Jacob Eason started and played the first half in the Colts’ preseason opener, Sam Ehlinger will tag in to start with the plan for him to play the first half of the Colts’ second preseason game.
No moment has seemed too big for Ehlinger over the last few weeks. His strong play during practice pushed him to split first-team reps with Eason; he overcame an early interception to lead a fourth quarter comeback against the Panthers on Sunday.
“Sam bounced back,” coach Frank Reich said. “That’s the kind of thing we want to see from our quarterbacks — mental toughness, to be able to have a glitch and be able to come back and play good football.”
The Colts have been impressed by Ehlinger’s ability to take in and eliminate pre-snap information to make things as simple as possible after the snap. His mobility was an asset against Carolina, too — he rushed for 35 yards on five attempts before a couple of kneel-downs at the end of the game.
Ehlinger will have a chance to play with some of the Colts’ offensive starters — Reich said he’ll play most, but not all, of them Saturday — and, also, he’ll face the Minnesota Vikings’ No. 1 defense for a least a few snaps. It’ll certainly be a test for Ehlinger, but he’s been up to the challenge against the Colts’ defense in practice.
“Because the way that the defense is in practice, when you get in the game, the practice that you have is very similar,” Ehlinger said. “It’s a little bit cleaner just because it’s the game and everybody knows they can’t disguise as well because if they get beat, it’s a touchdown and it actually matters. I would say it was a lot different just being in the offense, operating the huddle, hearing it, giving it to the offense. But other than that it was pretty smooth.”
2. Jacob Eason Riding Momentum
Eason completed 15 of 21 passes for 183 yards, including downfield throws for 37, 32 and 26 yards, against the Panthers. He was decisive and aggressive in his preseason debut, then carried that momentum over to practice this week at Grand Park.
“That was one thing (quarterbacks coach Scott) Milanovich and I were talking about is he’s just playing with a little bit more confidence,” offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said after Tuesday’s practice. “That’s the growth of a young quarterback is just continue getting reps, they get that live action, now they’re going to feel more comfortable as they move forward.”
The Colts are working with Eason on his depth in the pocket — he got a little too deep at times against the Panthers, and lost a fumble on a strip-sack in the first quarter.
But we’ve already seen Eason adjust to that emphasis in practice — on Wednesday, he stepped up in the pocket to evade pressure and fired a catch-and-run strike to tight end Kylen Granson in an 11-on-11 period.
“It was my first game in two years, getting out there, getting hit a little bit, seeing live stuff,” Eason said. “Yeah, maybe (practice) is a little different. I’m coming out here with a little bit more, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ That kind of thing, and not that I doubted that I could do I beforehand, but it’s just getting the reps in the bag and coming out. So yeah, the theme has been stacking days and keeping it small. That’s what I’ve been trying to do and just keep stacking good days.”
Reich was asked on Wednesday if he’s decided on how many starters he’ll play.
“For the most part, we’ll have most of our guys,” Reich said. “Not all of our starters will start. There’s going to be a couple that don’t play, not many, but most of our starters will play.”
This does mean Ehlinger will get an opportunity to play with some Colts starters who didn’t play against the Panthers.
“It’s not equal. As a former backup, I faced a lot of those scenarios. There’s no way to make it apples to apples,” Reich said. “So we just have to use our best judgment, understand all the dynamics that are in place and make the best with what you have at that time. That’s part of the evaluation.”
4. Mike Strachan And Competition At Receiver
The Colts’ competitive, deep wide receiver room shined against the Panthers, and if what we’ve seen in practice over the last few weeks is any indication, there’s no reason to doubt we’ll see more of the same in Minneapolis on Saturday.
Seventh round pick Mike Strachan has stacked day after day of making plays, including an impressive leaping grab for a touchdown from Jacob Eason during Thursday’s practice. He’s impressed wide receivers coach Mike Groh with how well he’s picked things up since coming to Indianapolis in May, and the 6-foot-5, 225 pound receiver has a certain innate skillset that he’s used to his advantage.
“He’s very instinctive as a player, he’s got good spatial awareness in terms of feeling where the defensive back is, the direction he might be leaning if he gets him off balance, how to react and counter that move,” Groh said. “And obviously he’s got the speed and the power.
“But more than that, you can be big but not have a sense of timing in terms of being able to elevate and take the ball off the rim. And he’s got that. He’s shown that sense of timing to be able to stick his foot in the ground and be able to go up and high point the ball, which is a unique skill. Everybody doesn’t have that.”
Strachan wasn’t the only receiver to make plays on Sunday, nor is he the only receiver to make plays throughout camp. Guys like Dezmon Patmon, De’Michael Harris, Ashton Dulin, Tarik Black and Tyler Vaughns have all made plays, too.
“Chris (Ballard) and Ed (Dodds) and all the guys have done a good job putting this group together,” Groh said. “Kudos to them.”
5. Continued Identity Building On Defense.
Even without most of its starters against Carolina, the Colts’ defense showed the kind of grit and identity that’s permeated its roster over the last few years. The Colts held strong in a handful of sudden change situations, limiting the Panthers to a smattering of field goals by locking things down and playing physical, disciplined football in those challenging spots.
“A majority of it is a mentality and just an attitude that you take about it,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said. “Like, ‘Okay, alright our offense made a mistake, but it’s our time now to make sure that we hold them to either three or no points. I think that’s something that we take personal. That’s something we pride ourselves in and like I said, it was at least a good showing today.”
The Colts’ defense, no matter who’s been on the field, has played at a high level all through training camp. And with more starters slated to play Saturday, there’s no reason to think what that group’s done at Grand Park won’t translate to U.S. Bank Stadium.
“No defense plays as hard as we play,” linebacker Darius Leonard said. “There’s nobody who’s getting off the ball in practice the way we do. There’s nobody that’s all 11 guys punching at the ball or getting after the quarterback. It’s just going to make everybody play their A game day in and day out, so when it comes to the game, it’s not like it’s their first time going hard. You’re going hard every day in practice. Everybody we practice is just like we play so when it comes to gametime, it’s not easy but it’s second nature to you.”