Is Jacob Eason starting to seize control of Indianapolis Colts' QB competition?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich is fond of boxing analogies, so let’s use one to describe Jacob Eason. The second-year quarterback knows how to take a punch.

While Eason would never admit it, it had to be a punch to the gut when Reich told him he was going to start splitting first-team snaps with sixth-round rookie Sam Ehlinger. After all, it wasn’t long before that conversation that Reich had told the football-watching world the backup job was Eason’s to lose.

Indeed, a couple of weeks into training camp, it seemed like Eason might be on his way to losing it.

Up through the practices against the Carolina Panthers, Ehlinger was the quarterback more consistently stacking solid practices while, despite some impressive heaves, Eason too often looked indecisive and inaccurate.

Slowly but surely, he had let Ehlinger creep into the backup quarterback competition. But over the past few days, Eason has been doing his part to push Ehlinger back out.

Eason was the more impressive quarterback during the Colts’ preseason opener against Carolina; he enjoyed maybe his best day as pro at Tuesday’s practice — one Ehlinger missed with an illness — and he outdueled Ehlinger yet again Wednesday.

Truthfully, Eason wasn’t quite as sharp Wednesday as he was the day before — his issues with holding onto the ball too long returned — but he still outperformed Ehlinger, who struggled through what might have been his worst day in camp.

Eason finished the day 7-of-9 and would have been 8-of-9 if Michael Strachan hadn’t dropped a beautifully thrown deep ball down the left sideline. He took one “sack.”

Returning from illness, Ehlinger mustered a lackluster 11-of-19 performance while taking three “sacks.” He salvaged his day late with a touchdown to Strachan during red zone work, but if you were scoring Wednesday’s practice like a boxing match, you’d have to give the round to Eason.

And that would make three “wins” in a row for Eason, who is proving just how resilient he can be. That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, given that Eason has shown this same type of mental toughness before.

Eason, remember, injured his knee as a sophomore at Georgia and lost his starting job to Jake Fromm. Down but not out, Eason transferred to Washington and led the 2019 Huskies to an 8-5 record and a win over No. 18 Boise St. in the Las Vegas Bowl before entering the NFL Draft.

The ups and downs of the quarterback position are common, Reich said. How a young quarterback handles them is often telling of what kind of player he’s going to be.

“He came out here feeling good, feeling a little bit more confident and you could feel that on the field Tuesday, and you could feel it today,” Reich said after Wednesday’s practice at Grand Park. “That’s the kind of thing you have to build on and every quarterback goes through it. But then you’re going to go through that and then you’re going to hit another (bad) spell. Then you have to be able to bounce back from that spell. It’s all a part of the maturation process with a QB, but Jacob’s showing all the right signs.”

The Colts also have to be encouraged with the work Eason’s been putting in to address the issues that have been hampering him during camp.

CARSON WENTZ: QBwill begin walk-throughs, throwing soon; Colts have no timetable for return

'RIGHT NOW, IT'S MY TIME': Andy Dalton discusses Bears QB competition with Justin Fields

Colts quarterback Jacob Eason throws during practice on Wednesday.
Colts quarterback Jacob Eason throws during practice on Wednesday.

Eason knows he hasn’t been decisive enough with the ball. He knows he’s processing a little bit too slowly. He also knows that he’s naturally going to get quicker the more reps he takes. It’s been said a million times throughout training camp, but it bears repeating: Eason took hardly any snaps last season. As a third-string rookie in a year with a shortened training camp and no preseason, he hardly got a chance to play.

The more comfortable he gets in the offense, the more assertive he’s going to become.

Still, he’s trying to speed that process along. A couple of nights ago, Eason put on tape of Philip Rivers to watch how quickly the ex-Colts quarterback was able to get the ball out of his hands. Rivers was a master at breaking down a defense pre-snap, calling for the right protection and knowing where to go with the ball as soon as the play started.

While Eason soaked in as much of that type of thing as he could last year from Rivers, as well as backup Jacoby Brissett, the best part about this season is being able to put what he learns into practice. Unlike last year, Eason can watch Rivers and then try to replicate what he saw on the field during his own reps.

The other area Eason knows he needs to improve upon is his pocket awareness.

“For me personally, a big thing is stepping up in the pocket, keeping two hands on the ball and really just kind of making my reads a little bit quicker,” Eason said. “That’ll come. It was my first game and we’re still working on it in practice, but (quarterbacks) coach (Scott) Milanovich, (offensive coordinator) Coach (Marcus) Brady, (assistant quarterbacks coach) Parks (Frazier) and everyone has been on me about the depth in the pocket, two hands, moving up, this and that. So, there is are a lot of things I’ve been working on out here that will carry over.”

If Eason keeps progressing — and keeps outplaying Ehlinger — he could emerge the winner of this competition as soon as next week. In an ideal world, Reich said Wednesday, the Colts will know who their top backup is heading into the final preseason game in Detroit. Reich warned that might not happen. It might still take the final preseason game to make a determination, but it’s possible Eason or Ehlinger is named the winner following Week 2 in Minnesota.

For Eason to claim an early victory, that likely means another strong showing during game action. However, after starting against the Panthers, Eason is scheduled to come in as relief for Ehlinger on Saturday night in Minnesota, which might be a bit of a disadvantage. Both the Vikings and the Colts are planning to deploy starters on Saturday, which means Ehlinger will get a chance to play with the best both teams have to offer. If he performs well, it will be hard for Eason to outshine him while playing with and against backups.

“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.”

Given the resilience Eason has shown during training camp and throughout his young career, it's a good bet the disadvantage he's facing this weekend won't bother him much.

"Ultimately, this competition is bringing out the best in both of us," Eason said Wednesday. "I'm happy with where we're at right now, but there's still a lot of room to improve."

Follow IndyStar Colts Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter: @jimayello.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Jacob Eason might have edge on Sam Ehlinger in Colts' QB competition