INDIANAPOLIS – There was at least one silver lining to emerge from the Indianapolis Colts’ first 0-3 start in a decade: Carson Wentz apparently was walking around on his sprained ankles Monday morning.
That wasn’t the case this time last week after he exited the loss to the Los Angeles Rams with sprains to both ankles. Wentz wore a protective boot on his right ankle and maneuvered the team’s complex on a scooter.
“We’re definitely ahead of where we were last week,’’ coach Frank Reich said on a Zoom conference call.
The hope is Wentz has a better week in preparation for Sunday’s visit to the Miami Dolphins than heading into last Sunday’s 25-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
Last week, Wentz spent the vast majority of his time with the team’s medical staff and only practiced on a limited basis Friday. He didn’t gain clearance to start against the Titans until after pregame warm-ups.
Wentz had both ankles heavily taped in the game and lacked anything resembling his usual mobility. He was sacked twice and hit another eight times despite a game plan that had him taking shorter drops and making quicker throws, but nearly escaped the game without aggravating the ankle injuries.
However, that occurred on the Colts’ last drive of the game when Titans defensive end Ola Adeniyi got the edge on left tackle Eric Fisher and spun Wentz to the ground. The sack was nullified by an illegal contact penalty on Tennessee defensive back Chris Jackson, but the damage had been done.
And that’s been one of the concerns with Wentz playing on sprained ankles. Are the Colts risking their starting QB being caught in a cycle of injury, rehab, re-injury, rehab, etc.?
“No,’’ Reich insisted. “He’s certainly always under the risk of reinjuring it. But we don’t feel like we’re in that cycle.’’
Wentz told Reich Monday that he made it through the game “almost clean where it wasn’t any major deal” before the late non-sack.
“Besides that, barring him reinjuring it but just playing the game, if he plays the game the way we play quarterback, we should physically get better every week,’’ Reich said.
Optimistically in a few weeks, he added, “this will all pass and he’ll be 100%.’’
Reich and Wentz discussed the situation Monday.
The objective: for Wentz to be one day ahead of where he was last week.
“Last week we got to the point where he could practice (Friday),’’ Reich said. “I hope he can practice on Wednesday, but if he can’t practice on Wednesday, hopefully we can get one day ahead and practice Thursday this week and maybe by the next week, then we’re back to practicing three times a week. Then maybe by the next week we’re 100%.
“In the meantime, there’s no excuses. I don’t want to make this sound like, ‘Well, he’s at whatever percent he is.’ I know nobody in this call is going to go easy on him or me or on us. If he’s on the field, he’s expected to play winning football. I’m expected and our staff is expected to put him in a position to play winning football.’’
There were a few other quarterback-related topics that came up during Monday’s press conference:
- Hundley as the backup
Instead of sticking with the plan of weeks 1-2 and having Jacob Eason serve as Wentz’s backup, the Colts went with Brett Hundley. That meant elevating Hundley to the active roster from the practice squad prior to the game.
Remember, Eason is the 2020 fourth-round draft pick and Hundley was signed July 31, and only after Wentz suffered the injury to his left ankle early in training camp.
The decision was made early last week and, according to Reich, “really based on experience.’’
Hundley started nine games with the Green Bay Packers in 2017, but has attempted just 11 passes in the last three seasons. Eason’s only NFL experience consists of five snaps against the Los Angeles Rams after Wentz was forced from the game.
“He’s experienced. He’s a very poised young man,’’ Reich said of Hundley. “We’re going on the road, playing in a difficult environment and just felt like if Carson wouldn’t play, that would be the best option for us.’’
Reich discussed the decision with Eason, telling him, “‘Jacob, you’re on the right track. You’re doing the right things. This is not about you. This is about Brett’s experience.’’’
- Not bringing in a veteran
Wentz’s current situation aside, the Colts have been criticized for not investing in a veteran backup at some point during the offseason. Wentz, after all, dealt with a variety of injuries during his five years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, they face the possibility of turning to a journeyman who hasn’t started since the final week of 2017 or a second-year QB who’s attempted five passes.
“Fair question,’’ Reich said. “It’s something Chris (Ballard) and I have talked through a lot. I think we felt very comfortable with what we decided at the beginning of the year, that these are the guys we are going to go with.’’
The young guys were Eason and Sam Ehlinger, a sixth-round pick in the April draft. Ehlinger split reps with Eason during training camp after Wentz was sidelined, but sprained the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the preseason finale at Detroit. He’s eligible to come off the injured reserve list this week.
“We’re going to give them every opportunity,’’ Reich said. “We had two young guys that we drafted that we wanted to get a lot of reps. If we had gone out and got a vet, it would have limited that. It would have been harder to see what we had in the two guys that we drafted.
“We like those guys and we think that they have talent and some upside . . . that was all in an effort to allow that to develop. You can always go out and get a vet if you, so called, needed one at the right time.’’
Reich was unable to provide on update on four players injured in Sunday’s game: All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson (ankle), rookie defensive end Kwity Paye (hamstring), safety Khari Willis (groin) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle).
Losing Nelson for any amount of time will be another huge blow to the offensive line. Right tackle Braden Smith has missed the last two games with a strained foot.
Nelson has started 54 consecutive games, including the postseason, since being selected with the 6th overall pick in 2018.
Wideout T.Y. Hilton is eligible to be activated off the injured reserve list, but that might not occur this week. He’s on the mend after undergoing surgery to address a disc issue in his neck.
“T.Y. is making great progress,’’ Reich said. “I’ve talked to him, seen him out there doing his rehab and getting going, and I’m encouraged with that I’ve seen.
“I don’t think we’re quite there yet with him.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.