INDIANAPOLIS – If nothing else, the Colts are going to get an answer on a young quarterback.
And that’s something this franchise has shied away from ever since Andrew Luck retired in August 2019.
Sam Ehlinger, 24, is the new starting quarterback for the Colts as he plays his second NFL season.
It’s a golden opportunity for the 6th round pick from 2021 to try and prove he could be a candidate to be the Colts franchise quarterback beyond this season.
While many view this as a clear commitment to the future for the Colts, internally, some in the organization believe Ehlinger can be an upgrade in the short-term.
Let’s take a closer look at where Ehlinger helps/hurts the Colts:
Easily the biggest difference in the positive direction with Sam Ehlinger now playing quarterback for the Colts is a threat to make plays with his legs is alive again at the QB position.
While that can come from more designed run/pass options (RPOs), Ehlinger can also provide the extra element of a quarterback capable of extending a play to scramble, or to find a receiving threat well after the Xs and Os of a play have dried up.
Now, the opposing defense must now factor in the Colts quarterback as a running threat. That wasn’t the case with Ryan. That helps the Colts, and especially the run game when you are counting up defenders and their responsibilities on a given play.
And, from an entertainment standpoint, Colts fans will now see a collapsing pocket and not think the play is automatically over. That’s less boring, if you care about that stuff.
Probably the biggest question regarding Ehlinger coming out of college was his NFL arm.
Was Ehlinger capable of fitting balls into tighter windows down the field, and produce a respected vertical passing game (something the Colts were missing big time with Matt Ryan)?
Many thought Ehlinger was a finished product in this area after starting for 4 years at Texas.
Knowing that, and with the encouragement of Chris Ballard, Ehlinger re-tooled his throwing motion this offseason with arm/QB guru Tom House, after some clear arm questions during his rookie campaign.
If this preseason is an indicator, the results were promising.
Throwing with anticipation can sometimes mask arm strength/velocity. So Ehlinger will still need to prove himself there, even if his arm has improved.
Of course, Seeing Ehlinger’s arm flash a little more at Grand Park and the preseason, against third-team competition is one thing. How will it look in real life, versus NFL regular season game speed?
Before last week, Ehlinger was the Colts scout team quarterback, meaning he wasn’t running the Indy offense and was throwing to players he won’t be throwing to this Sunday.
Actual practice reps with the skill group he’s now working with as the starter have hardly been there.
How well, and how quickly, Ehlinger and his pass catchers can get on the same page will be fire by trial with 3 practices each week.
Colts skill guys have now gone from Carson Wentz at quarterback, to Matt Ryan, to Sam Ehlinger in less than a year. Playbook wise, this offensive system is going to look different in going from Ryan to Ehlinger, with a definite focus of getting the new QB out of the pocket and in the bootleg game.
One thing Frank Reich has often pointed out about Ehlinger is that despite his youth, the 24-year-old quarterback “finds simple” well. The Colts feel good about Ehlinger as a processor and being a methodical passer when needed.
Yes, Sunday will be the first time Ehlinger has thrown a pass in an NFL game.
That’s a massive leap from primarily running the scout team, wearing a red non-contact jersey in practice.
Of course, Ehilnger’s background from high-level Texas High School Football, to being a 4-year starter at Texas, put him in some major atmospheres, for those levels.
But Sunday is different as Ehlinger gets a chance 6th round picks dream of.
In the short-term, where the Colts need Ehlinger to be a different quarterback than Ryan the most is making sure a bad play does not become catastrophic. That was a major issue for Ryan and something the Colts could not overcome.
If the young quarterback can do that, show off some of that ability with his legs, the Colts think the “it” factor prior Ehlinger teammates have mentioned will be there.
Still though, Sunday will be the start of the biggest job interview of Ehlinger’s life and how he handles that comes with some definite unknown.