INDIANAPOLIS – Uncertainty still hovers over the Indianapolis Colts as they prepare for a win-and-in-the-playoff meeting with the Las Vegas Raiders, but it’s being tempered with a touch of optimism.
We’ll start with the most influential position and player: quarterback and Carson Wentz.
Since being placed on the COVID-19 list Tuesday and dealing with a “slow start to the week as far as physically,’’ Wentz has shown progress while staying involved with preparations remotely, coach Frank Reich said Friday.
“We have to see how these next couple of days play out,’’ he added, “but he’s had a good week.
“Very confident in Carson’s preparation this week. He’s been dialed in on Zoom meetings.’’
Two critical steps remain for Wentz to start against the Raiders in a game with massive playoff ramifications. If the Colts win for the ninth time in 11 games, they clinch a playoff berth.
For Wentz to remain the starter, the team must activate him from the COVID-19 list prior to 4 p.m. Saturday. Then he must gain medical clearance Sunday.
If that doesn’t happen, rookie Sam Ehlinger makes his first NFL start.
“Sam has had a great week,’’ Reich said. “We’ve got both guys ready. We’ll get both guys ready to go, like we do every week and be prepared either way we have to go.’’
Ehlinger has had his first week of full-scale work with the starting unit, but Reich noted earlier in the week the offensive game plan would be 20-25% different if Ehlinger is under center.
In three games, the sixth-round draft pick has been on the field for 18 snaps and yet to throw a pass. Even so, Reich has the utmost confidence in him.
“He’s got that ‘it’ factor,’’ he said. “I mean everyone who has ever been around the guy says it.
“Sam has flashed in these moments his whole life. He’s come up big in moments like this time after time again. So, he has those innate characteristics and qualities . . . I think he’s built for something like this.’’
While the quarterback situation has dominated the days leading up to Sunday’s game, there have been numerous other moving parts.
Rhodes out. Pro Bowl long snapper Luke Rhodes was placed on the virus list. He’ll be replaced by veteran Kyle Nelson, who was signed to the practice squad Friday. Nelson has appeared in 106 games in 11 seasons with seven teams.
Reich said the Colts are confident punter/holder Rigoberto Sanchez will be able to compensate if the snap-hold-kick mechanics aren’t smooth with the late addition of a snapper.
“Rigo is one of the better holders I’ve seen,’’ he said.
Mack, Addae activated. Backup running back Marlon Mack and safety Jahleel Addae were activated off the COVID-19 list Friday. Right tackle Braden Smith and cornerback T.J. Carrie are eligible to return to the active roster Saturday, and could be available Sunday.
Sendejo out. Safety Andrew Sendejo will miss a second straight game with a concussion.
Fisher questionable. Left tackle Eric Fisher worked on the side with trainers Friday and is questionable for Sunday. He exited last Saturday’s win at Arizona with knee, toe and pectoral injuries. If Fisher is out, Matt Pryor makes his fifth start of the season and the first at left tackle.
Key players return. Seven front-line players who missed the Arizona game after positive COVID-19 tests returned this week. This list includes left guard Quenton Nelson, right guard Mark Glowinski, linebacker Darius Leonard, safety Khari Willis, defensive end Kemoko Turay, wideout Zach Pascal and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
“I get the impression that most of the guys are full-go,’’ Reich said. “Everybody responds to (the virus) different. Maybe there was one day I thought maybe one of the guys might need another half-day rest. I think the guys looked good, have responded well.
“You just get stronger every day. For the most part, it’s been pretty clean.’’
Kelly back. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly returned after missing three games. The last two were after the death of his infant daughter, Mary Kate.
Campbell practicing. Wideout Parris Campbell practiced Friday. That’s just over two months after the 2019 second-round draft pick underwent foot surgery and was placed on the injured reserve list.
“He looked good,’’ Reich said, adding “I doubt we’re going to activate him this week. But it was a good first step.’’