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INDIANAPOLIS – Last April, Chris Ballard wasn’t even guaranteeing Jacob Eason a roster spot, going well out of his way to temper any rookie expectations for the drafted quarterback.

Following Eason’s rookie year though, Ballard isn’t afraid to heap some public praise on the 22-year-old QB, even if he never dressed for the Colts in 2020 and took meaningful practice reps just 6 times during the regular season.

Ballard, rightly so, acknowledges that the fact that Eason didn’t get a chance to play in preseason games makes a big chunk of his evaluation left unanswered.

But Eason still had some boxes to check as a professional, especially in the classroom work that goes into being a QB.

The Colts liked what he did in that department.

“Let me tell you this about Jacob Eason, he kept his mouth shut and he worked,” Ballard said at the end of the 2020 season. “He was in a great quarterback room with a lot of experience and got to take all that in. I got to visit with him for about 30 minutes the other day. I asked him, ‘How did you grow? What did you learn?’ He had a great answer just watching Philip (Rivers), Jacoby (Brissett), Frank (Reich), Nick (Sirianni) and Marcus (Brady) talk ball, how they carried themselves, how they worked, how they were professionals, all of that was something that he absorbed.

“He knows he’s got to go to work this offseason but Jacob is very talented, extremely talented. I remember he was out before a game throwing to some wideouts and a coach of another team who I am close with, walked up to me and said, ’Who is that?’ I said, ‘It’s our young quarterback, Jacob Eason.’ So it doesn’t take long to see his talent. Now we just have to see him play.”

Eason does need to play.

In the last four seasons of football, Eason has played in just 16 of a possible 55 games.

Had he returned to Washington for his final year in 2020, another starting season would have been incredibly valuable and could have given him more live work that he so desperately needs right now.

The major parts of Eason’s development included maturity as a leader, mastering the ability to process a new system and then translating that to when the red jersey comes off.

Even his main practice time this season was leading the scout team, aka the opponents’ offense, so not running the Colts system.

Before Rivers suffered a November toe injury that allowed for Eason to get more practice action, Reich described what the rookie was doing week-to-week.

“He’s obviously in all the meetings,” Reich said of Eason. “He’s not getting a whole lot of scout team reps. That’s pretty normal. As the year goes on, he’ll start to get some scout team reps. Jacoby takes most of those because he’s the second priority, in getting him ready. Jacob does a good job of getting engaged. Philip does a really good job with Jacoby and Jacob. They have a lot of side meetings. I can just tell you as a former player, this is where the gold is at for Jacob. He is in there early with Philip and Jacoby, and they are watching the third-down tape by themselves, drawing up the plays, talking it through the three of them. They are doing that for red zone and they’re doing that in our base game plan. Jacob is going to learn a lot from being in our offensive unit meetings and he is going to learn a lot being out at practice and getting work. But the most mental development – this is at least with my experience as well – was being in the quarterback room with just the quarterbacks hearing the thought process from a player’s perspective all the time. I’m just telling you, that is gold and he is getting that from Philip and Jacoby in ways that will be really significant to his growth.

“Then after practice, (Eason’s) doing a great job of working hard. He stays after every practice and throws. Sometimes I go down there with him and watch him and kind of work through it a little bit with him, but mostly it’s (quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady). He’s doing a great job.”

Before Rivers announced his retirement, Ballard said he wasn’t yet comfortable giving Eason the backup job in ’21 just yet.

That’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean the Colts were displeased with what they saw from him in his rookie year.

“We drafted Jacob Eason last year who we like,” Ballard adds. “We have to find out a lot more about Jacob Eason. No offseason program. Really the first time we see Jacob is in training camp and there’s no preseason games so we are trying to get ready for the season at that point.

“But we like what we’ve seen from Jacob. We think we really have a really good young talent in Jacob Eason.”