Sam Ehlinger, NFL starting QB? Sixth-round rookie gets first-team reps at Colts practice

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Much has been made of this year's rookie quarterbacks, with plenty of speculation about who we'll see on the field and when. 

Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson both figure to be Week 1 starters. Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones — not so much. And then there's Sam Ehlinger

Wait. Sam Ehlinger?

Nobody expected the sixth-round pick out of Texas to be in any sort of 2021 conversation about starting in the NFL. But that's apparently where things stand with the Indianapolis Colts. With Carson Wentz expected to miss significant time with a foot injury, second-year pro Jacob Eason figured to have the inside track to QB1. But reports out of Indianapolis indicate he's got competition. 

Ehlinger practices with Colts starters

Ehlinger took practice reps with Colts starters on Tuesday for the first time. And it appears that there's a genuine quarterback competition in Indianapolis. Until Wentz is healthy enough to play, at least. 

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger runs a drill during practice at the NFL team's football training camp in Westfield, Ind., Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Not many pegged Sam Ehlinger as a Week 1 NFL starter. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Frank Reich: 'This is a meritocracy'

Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters on Tuesday that he likes what he's seen out of Ehlinger and anticipates he'll continue to split-first team reps with Eason in practice. 

“It wasn’t Jacob doing anything wrong,” Reich said, per The Athletic. “This is a meritocracy, and Sam has looked good, so we decided to split it up. The good news is they both looked sharp today. We’ll continue to split those reps.”

Eason, a fourth-round pick out of Washington in 2020, has yet to take an NFL snap. He's known for his big arm, but questions linger about his decision-making. Ehlinger showed plenty of poise as a four-year starter at Texas while producing a 94-to-27 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

He doesn't have Eason's arm, but Ehlinger brings athleticism and playmaking upside that Eason doesn't. He rushed for 1,903 yards and 33 touchdowns with the Longhorns. In three seasons with Georgia and Washington, Eason only went backward as a runner, tallying a grand total of -126 rushing yards in college. 

Will Ehlinger prove to be more NFL-ready than his second-year counterpart? It appears that Reich is willing to find out. 

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