INDIANAPOLIS – The uniqueness of the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterbacks room is undeniable, even taking into account the nomadic nature of the NFL.
The individual with the most experience in the room and with Frank Reich’s offense was on the active roster for all 17 games last year but never suited up on game day.
That would be Jacob Eason.
When quarterbacks first gathered at the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Center for the team’s abbreviated offseason, the 2020 fourth-round pick was the only one familiar with how to navigate the complex’s hallways.
Gone were Philip Rivers (retired) and Jacoby Brissett (signed with the Miami Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent).
Replacing them were Carson Wentz, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, Sam Ehlinger, selected in the sixth round of the April NFL Draft, and Jalen Morton, signed off the street in February.
On a grander scale, the Colts are one of two teams – the reloading New York Jets are the other – entering the season without a quarterback who took at least one snap in a game for them in 2020. The last time they were similarly in-house inexperienced was in 2012 when Andrew Luck took over the room and Drew Stanton occupied the No. 2 seat.
“It’s completely different,’’ Eason said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call. “I think we’ve got another great batch of QBs, a younger room this year, but still an exciting room.
“There’s a lot of great personalities in that room that all mesh well together. We love to compete, love to get better. I’m really looking forward to working with the guys in the room and competing for that role.’’
That role would be serving as Wentz’s backup.
General manager Chris Ballard and coach Reich reacted to Rivers’ retirement following one year in Indy by doing a deep dive on Wentz. They decided he was worth the investment – a 2021 third-round pick and likely 2022 first-rounder, not to mention the next two years of a contract that contains roughly $47 million in guarantees – and not only was the short-term but perhaps long-term answer at the franchise’s most influential position.
The team’s post-Wentz actions clearly reflected confidence in Eason. It waited until round 6 to draft another young arm. And it didn’t look for a veteran presence on the open market, although Ballard recently mentioned that option could be revisited during training camp.
“Jacob is in the position right now, but this is a prove-it league, right?’’ Reich said in the aftermath of the draft. “I mean he’s in that role, but there will be competition. We’ll split up the reps. I don’t know how it will be at this point, but everybody will get a chance, and we’re excited about Jalen Morton getting a chance as well.
“Those guys will all get an opportunity.’’
But let’s not kid ourselves. The backup job is Eason’s to lose.
“Jacob’s really talented,’’ Ballard said. “He’s a good kid, and he’s got a lot to learn. Last year was good from a standpoint he got to understand, but now he just needs to play.
“Those preseason games and the reps he needs to get are important.’’
Without benefit of an offseason workout program and the preseason – both erased by COVID-19 – Eason’s on-field rookie development consisted of getting whatever practice reps were left after Rivers and Brissett got theirs, and staying around after practice and working with position coach Marcus Brady, who was elevated to coordinator when Nick Sirianni was named Philadelphia’s new head coach.
Off the field, he was a sponge and soaked up every scintilla of information from Rivers, a 17-year veteran who had seen everything, and Brissett, who had started two of the three previous seasons.
Eason made it a point to fill up one notebook after another.
“If you don’t write things down,’’ he said, “so many things are said in those meetings you’re going to forget. Taking notes was huge for me, and this offseason going back and reviewing.
“I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’ve got a ton of room for improvement. But I feel like what I did last year and going into this offseason, I’ve taken strides and going out there now in OTAs I have a better understanding this year than I did last year.’’
No one should underestimate the lasting influence of Rivers and Brissett. Eason described them as “mentors.’’
“They helped me lock in and answered my questions,’’ he said. “I was able to engage with them and ask a bunch of questions. I definitely do not believe I wasted a minute here last year.
“I felt given the circumstances, I grew tremendously.’’
Eason has a firm grasp of Reich’s offense, which should be expected going from year 1 to year 2.
Before players converged in Indy for the two weeks of offseason work, many gathered in various parts of the country for positional sessions. That included Eason spending three months in California with Michael Pittman Jr. The 2020 draft ‘mates – Pittman was taken in round 2 – have become close friends.
“This year Jacob is getting more reps, so I feel like we really get to see him shine now and see what he is capable of,’’ Pittman said. “You see a guy who is smart, talented. He just has everything it takes.’’
Everything, that is, except the opportunity to set up behind center and take snaps in a competitive setting. That will come during the three preseason games: against Carolina and at Minnesota and Detroit.
Wentz could be limited to a handful of snaps during the preseason, leaving the bulk of the work to Eason, Ehlinger and Morton.
“Last year was very tough for all rookies going into the league,’’ Eason said. “Not given the chance of having those three or four preseason games before the regular season was tough. A lot of guys getting cut without ever being able to prove themselves. Not being able to go out on the field and make those mistakes and learn from them here and there.
“For me it was not only that, but not getting a lot of reps. As I continue to get reps and I continue to have these on-the-field practices with these guys, I’ll only continue to improve and grow.
“I’m excited for this upcoming preseason to have the shot to go out there and compete.’’
Pittman impressed with Wentz
It didn’t take long for Pittman to experience one of those “Wow!’’ moments with his new quarterback.
Pittman and fellow wideout Dezmon Patmon were among players joined by Wentz in California for some throwing sessions. It left an indelible mark.
“The first time that I met Carson was actually in Orange County, and we were just getting together throwing and just having a good time, working out, fellowship, all that stuff,’’ Pittman said. “The first or second time that I was throwing with him, we were running post routes, and he threw like a 65-yard post, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve gotta dig down and run.’’’
Pittman obviously was impressed with Wentz’s arm strength “and probably the way he works.
“He’s so dialed in. He is on a mission.’’
On a mission?
“That’s probably a question for him,’’ Pittman said, “but I could just tell he is so focused on whatever it is . . . proving himself, winning a Super Bowl. Whatever it is, he is just lasered in.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.