INDIANAPOLIS — Sam Ehlinger understands the numbers game.
And we’re not talking about the ridiculous numbers he’s tacked up during the Indianapolis Colts’ first two preseason games: 19-of-22 (86.4%), 224 yards, 10.2 yards per attempt, four touchdowns, no interceptions, a 148.7 passer rating.
We’re talking about where he fits in the quarterback pecking order and what it’s going to take for him to eventually move up a slot. And how long that might take.
“I’m just scratching the surface,’’ Ehlinger said shortly after another productive performance in the Colts’ 27-26 loss to Detroit Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
His latest developmental step involved completing 9-of-11 passes for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Sam’s been great,’’ Frank Reich said. “This guy has worked as hard as anybody on the roster in the offseason, in training camp. He is a relentless worker. He is so determined to get better in every aspect of his game.
“I think his arm not only looks stronger, I think he’s throwing the ball more accurately than he was last year, not that it was bad last year.’’
But while outside observers wonder whether Ehlinger has done enough to chase down veteran Nick Foles for the backup spot behind Matt Ryan – that isn’t going to happen – Ehlinger, again, understands his status in the QB room, the trajectory he’s on and the likely time frame.
He isn’t preoccupied with the depth chart because it’s “completely out of my control.’’
Ryan is under contract through 2023 and guaranteed $53.9 million. Foles was signed as a free agent and given a two-year, $6.2 million contract with $4 million guaranteed.
Listen to Reich and Chris Ballard long enough and you come to realize they believe the Colts are in good hands for the next two seasons. With Ryan and Foles.
Instead of wondering whether he’ll make the final roster cut to 53 or spend this season on the practice squad, Ehlinger is laser-focused on doing everything within his control to position himself for the future.
Initially, that means being a sponge around Ryan and Foles, QBs who have Super Bowl starts on their resume.
“Really my focus has been on what I can control and what I can control is my mechanics and increasing knowledge of the game, soaking up information from Matt Ryan; probably going to be a Hall of Famer,’’ Ehlinger said. “I have a great opportunity to learn from two guys that have done it, and not becoming frustrated with the situation and knowing in the long run if I want to play in this league for 15 years, I should spend really the first three years learning.’’
Year 1 for the 2021 6th-round involved rehabbing a knee injury and backing up Carson Wentz.
Ehlinger spent the first six weeks of the season on the injured reserve list after spraining the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Aug. 27 against Detroit. When he returned, he appeared in three games and was on the field for 18 snaps.
He’s yet to throw a pass in a regular-season game.
The Colts are enamored with Ehlinger because of his leadership qualities and the way teammates gravitate to him. But there always has been a question about his arm strength.
To better prepare himself for whenever that opportunity presents itself, Ehlinger heeded the advice of Ballard. The GM thought his young QB would benefit from the expertise of throwing guru Tom House, whose NFL clientele is long and distinguished: Ryan, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota, Alex Smith . . .
“Chris told me I needed to go work with him,’’ Ehlinger said.
That began in March and exposed Ehlinger to every nuance of his craft: muscles, nerves, biomechanics, throwing motion, balance.
“There’s a lot of things,’’ he said. “I think that starting with my shoulder and the way that it’s shaped and the muscles that are dominating. You have accelerators and decelerators in your shoulder, and so really working on both of those things, but having a balance and knowing what I need to do.
“So that’s just from a functional fitness working on the muscular stuff and then from the biomechanical signature, working on timing, the sequencing of from when you want to start to throw all the way from the ground up . . . working on all of those things and then working on mechanical variables within that signature.’’
Ehlinger said he’s working on a “two-year plan.’’
“There’s a lot of neurological things that I’m fighting. When you’re out on the field and the chaos around you increased, naturally you’re going to revert back to what your nerve wirings in your brain want you to do when you say, ‘Throw the football.’
“So I’m fighting what I’ve been doing for years and thousands of reps. So it takes about two years to break those things down. I definitely feel I made some progress in that aspect and then also in the offense. I’m very comfortable with the offense and getting comfortable with defenses.’’
Ehlinger’s association with House wasn’t a brief encounter.
“Yeah, I plan to continue to work with Tom throughout the season,’’ he said, “and I think I may spend the offseason with him.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.