WESTFIELD – Carson Wentz is the Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback and Frank Reich has a special place in his heart for Nick Foles.
Both can be true.
No sooner had the Colts’ quarterback situation absorbed a major hit Monday when Wentz underwent surgery on his left foot to remove a piece of the fifth metatarsal – the rehab range is 5-to-10 weeks, which threatens his availability for the Sept. 12 opener against Seattle – than speculation percolated about the possibility of bringing in a veteran.
The speculation included Foles, whose association with Reich and Wentz came in 2017 with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s currently situated No. 3 on the Chicago Bears’ depth chart behind Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields.
Tuesday, Foles spoke glowingly about Reich, describing him as “one of my favorite, if not favorite, coaches of all time.’’
Wednesday, it was Reich’s turn when his post-practice attention was steered toward the sign-a-vet-or-stick-with-what-you’ve-got topic.
“I’ll say a couple of things,’’ he began. “This is Carson’s team first of all. He’s our quarterback and we’re so excited about having him and he knows that this team knows that. When we brought him here, we brought him here for one reason. He’s going to compete, but he’s going to come in and lead this football team.’’
And Foles? Again, he’s a Chicago Bear. But in ’17, he took over after Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury and led the Eagles to win over New England in Super Bowl LII. Foles credited Reich with tailoring the Philly offense to better accentuate his strengths and he was named the game’s MVP.
“I don’t mind talking about Nick Foles,’’ Reich said. “I love Nick Foles. He plays for the Chicago Bears and haven’t talked to him, but I think he’s a great player. I think he’s proven that. I think he’s a great teammate.
“There’s nothing about Nick Foles that I don’t like. I think he’s a winner. He’s certainly a guy that fits our kind of culture, but he plays for the Chicago Bears. We’re glad we got the guys we got and we’re focusing on getting our team better.’’
With Wentz out, Reich immediately elevated Jacob Eason.
“The job is Jacob’s right now,’’ he said. He has to prepare like he’s starting week 1. We don’t know if that’ll happen or not, but he’s gotta be ready.’’
The next week or so figures to be huge for Eason and the Colts.
The team’s 2020 fourth-round draft pick is in the midst of inconsistent training, and there’s no question his development has been impeded by the absence of left tackle Eric Fisher (rehabbing a torn Achilles) and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly (elbow). Tuesday, All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson underwent surgery on his right foot, an injury that also could keep him out 5-12 weeks.
Thursday and Friday next week the Colts have joint practices with the Carolina Panthers at Grand Park. The preseason opener against the Panthers is Aug. 16.
If Eason shows noticeable improvement under game conditions, that would ease any anxieties within the team. If he struggles, the Colts might consider quarterback options outside the building.
Bounce back for Eason, offense
Tuesday wasn’t a good day for either Eason or the offense. The first 11-on-11 session included three consecutive exchange snaps between Eason and backup center Joey Hunt, a sack and an interception by defensive tackle Grover Stewart.
There was noticeable improvement Wednesday.
“Yesterday wasn’t the best day to be honest and I just said to him out there, ‘Hey, man, that’s the way to bounce back. That’s what we do, as quarterbacks, as a team.’ It wasn’t just Jacob yesterday, the offense struggled.
“But today, right from the start, from the very first period, I’m sure you guys could see it and feel it . . . he really looked good today.’’
Eason completed his first five passes in team drills and was 9-of-12 overall. One of his best throws was a power pass over the middle to Zach Pascal. Safety Julian Blackmon broke on the ball but missed the interception. Eason’s delivery was low, and only Pascal had a real opportunity to secure it.
The best throw of the day might have belonged to rookie Sam Ehlinger. He delivered a perfect strike down the left sideline to Gary Jennings for a sizeable gain.
“I’m really impressed with where Sam is,’’ Reich said. “Not only mentally, but just whatever the ‘it’ factor is. It’s not too big for him; you can feel that. He’s got a presence about him and he has instincts. You can feel that he has good quarterback instincts.
“He understands. I told him yesterday it’s very apparent he understands how to keep the game simple and that’s a big deal.’’
Wentz injury history not a concern
Wentz’s foot issue is the latest injury to plague him. Since being selected by the Eagles with the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, he’s missed 12 games with injuries that include a torn ACL, a concussion and a back issue. He’s started 16 games twice in five seasons.
Reich insisted the Colts took Wentz’s medical history into account before finalizing the offseason trade with Philadelphia that cost them a 2021 third-round pick and perhaps a 2022 first rounder (definitely a second-rounder).
“It wasn’t a hard sell for me,’’ he said. “I’m not saying the guy hasn’t been dinged a couple of times… when you look at the number of games he’s actually missed, sure it’s more than two or three, but he still played a lot of football and he played a lot of good football.
“I wasn’t overly concerned with it. There was a lot of chatter about it, but behind closed doors, Chris (Ballard) and I, we weren’t ignoring it but my two cents’ worth . . . I don’t think this is an overarching issue. Look at the record. It’s good. He’s played plenty of football so far.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.