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INDIANAPOLIS – Quenton Nelson is on the clock, but might not be for long.

The Indianapolis Colts’ All-Pro left guard was one of three players designated for a return to practice Wednesday – that opens a 21-day window for a player on the injured reserve list to practice – and there’s a chance the next step will be a major one.

After missing the last three games with a high sprain to his right ankle that sent him to IR, Nelson could assume his normal spot on the offensive line for Sunday night’s meeting with the San Francisco 49ers.

“I think Quenton can be a quick return because of who he is,’’ Frank Reich said Wednesday. “We think he’s been making good progress.’’

Nelson was expected to be limited in Wednesday’s practice, and ideally handle a heavier workload Thursday.

“We’ll see if we can ramp it up,’’ Reich said.

Nelson sprained his ankle in the second quarter of the week 3 loss to Tennessee. It snapped his streak of consecutive starts at 54 games, including the playoffs.

Last week, quarterback Carson Wentz was encouraged at the prospect of wideout T.Y. Hilton returning after missing the first five games with a neck injury.

Now, he’s upbeat with the possibility of Nelson’s return.

“He’s a heck of a player,’’ Wentz said. “Much like T.Y. when I said on-field we know what he’s going to bring, but behind the scenes he brings that leadership guys rally around.

“Q’s the same. Q is definitely a leader on this team and it’s always good to get leaders back; back in the huddle, back in the locker room. He’ll definitely be a vocal leader, bring some energy and he’ll play his tail off.’’

In Nelson’s absence, veteran Chris Reed has stepped in at left guard. If Nelson returns against the 49ers, the plan is for Reed to alternate at right guard with starter Mark Glowinski.

“Both of those guys have played well,’’ Reich said.

Along with Nelson, rookie defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo and wide receiver Dezmon Patmon were designated to return to practice. Odeyingbo opened the season on the physically unable to perform list after tearing an Achilles tendon in January while Patmon opened the season on IR with a foot injury.

Hilton, Smith update

Hilton and right tackle Braden Smith did not practice Wednesday, and it’s uncertain whether that will change as the week unfolds.

Hilton suffered a quadriceps injury in Sunday’s win over Houston while Smith has missed the last five games with a strained foot.

“We want to be smart with T.Y.,’’ Reich said. “We know what an impact he is. I’m not going to rule (a return to practice) out; hoping he can play.

“We need more time and a couple of days to see how it plays out and how T.Y. responds. I really trust T.Y. and our docs and trainers. I don’t want to over-commit one way or the other on him.’’

Smith’s progress has been much slower than the team anticipated. He suffered the foot injury in the season-opening loss to Seattle.

“It was just unfortunate how this one’s played out,’’ Reich said. “Every now and then it happens. Seems like nine out of 10 times our docs and trainers when they give us estimates on time, they kind of give us a more conservative estimate.

“And for whatever reason, this is that one out of 10 times that took longer instead of shorter. We have to continue to be patient with it.’’

The Ehlinger-Eason issue

The decision apparently wasn’t easy, but also spoke volumes.

Tuesday, the Colts waived Jacob Eason, their 2020 fourth-round draft pick, and filled his spot on the 53-player roster with rookie sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger.

The Colts had hoped to re-sign Eason to the practice squad if he cleared waivers, but he was claimed by the Seattle Seahawks.

Veteran Brett Hundley remains Wentz’s backup, but the No. 3 rung on the depth chart belongs to Ehlinger.

Reich pointed to Ehlinger’s long, productive career at Texas: 43 starts, 11,436 passing yards, 4 touchdowns. By contrast, Eason appeared in 32 games with 26 starts at Washington and Georgia.

The Colts always have pointed to Eason’s superior physical skills, but also have been impressed with Ehlinger’s presence on the field and in the huddle, and his mobility.

After the decision was made, Reich had a long talk with Eason, who was given every chance to secure the backup job during training camp after Wentz underwent Aug. 2 foot surgery.

“I had a 45-minute conversation with Jacob (Tuesday),’’ Reich said. “I really had nothing negative, ‘Hey, you can get better here . . .’ We can all get better. That’s where I don’t want to overstate it. I don’t want to it come off like, ‘This is a glaring weakness.’

“I just think for Jacob it’s more time, more time playing the game, playing football in those competitive situations. I think he’s going to have a long and very good career. I think he’s got the talent to do it. We think there’s a lot of room for growth and tremendous upside with Jacob.’’

Eason opened the season as Wentz’s backup, but was leap-frogged by Hundley for the past four games. He was a healthy inactive for the last three.

More roster moves

The Colts added a pair of veteran presences to the practice squad: cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Josh Jones.

Dennard was a 2014 first-round pick of Cincinnati and has appeared in 85 games with 30 starts while spending time with the Atlanta Falcons and Bengals.

Jones, a 2017 second-round pick of Green Bay, has started 25 games and appeared in 48 with the Packers, Dallas and Jacksonville.

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.