WESTFIELD, Ind. – The initial impression – that first-practice-after-the-first-game reaction – was undeniably positive.
Jacob Eason passed the eye test Tuesday morning as the Indianapolis Colts returned to the Grand Park Sports Campus practice fields following Sunday’s preseason opener against Carolina.
He looked the part: more confident, more decisive, more in control.
At some point, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich huddled and were in agreement.
He’s just playing with a little bit more confidence.
“That’s the growth of a young quarterback, just continue getting reps and that live action,’’ Brady said. “They’re going to feel more comfortable as they move forward.’’
Eason’s first-half work against the Panthers – 15-of-21 for 183 yards, with three sacks – was his first live action in more than 600 days, since the University of Washington’s Las Vegas Bowl meeting with BYU (Dec. 21, 2019).
His first three weeks of training camp had been a study in inconsistency: the big arm was obvious, but there was indecision in the pocket and too many misguided throws.
Those issues lessened against the Panthers, and again on the practice field Tuesday.
Coach Frank Reich described Sunday’s preseason game as a “checkpoint’’ for Eason and Sam Ehlinger.
“It’s a meritocracy,’’ he said. “You’ve got to go out there and show it and they both showed up well in the game.’’
Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton was impressed.
“He really needed to get a game under his belt,’’ he said. “He’s just putting in the work, putting in the film, putting in the time on the field and just showing off.
“He’s on his way up. The sky’s the limit for him as long as he continues to put in the work and just trust and believe in himself. That’s the main thing, believe in yourself . . . you can do anything.’’
Ehlinger missed Tuesday’s practice with an illness (non-COVID-19-related), but is expected to start Saturday’s preseason game with the Minnesota Vikings. That allowed the spotlight to shine brightest on Eason.
Again, it was unquestionably his best day at camp. Eason was 12-of-16 in team drills and, for the most part, read the field better and was crisp with his throws.
“The decisions were happening just that much quicker. He was seeing it better,’’ Brady said. “I think he’s just feeling more confident in himself, ‘OK, I know I can play at this level.’ You could just feel that from him.
“As a former player, I know there’s going to be slight doubt in your performance, especially if you haven’t played yet. For him to be able to go out there and perform well, I’m sure now he just believes in himself that much more.’’
The Panthers’ experience, Brady added, was encouraging for Eason and those who might depend on him when the Sept. 12 opener against Seattle rolls around.
“You really never know,’’ he said. “You see ups and downs in practice (and) you see the potential. Then you want to see live games. How does he fold under pressure or how does he rise under pressure?
“We loved the demeanor on the sideline. He was locked in. He felt confident on the sideline. Yeah, good vibes from the first game. He was able to show that big arm of his.’’
Still, the arrow needs to remain in an upward trajectory.
That means for Eason to hone his pocket presence. Brady noted his second-year quarterback has a tendency to drift too deep when making his progressions. That will be a point of emphasis for Milanovich in his dealings with Eason.
“That is one area we want to just clean up,’’ Brady said. “A lot of it is he’s just getting a little too deep in the pocket and we’re going to work on that.
“It’s a fix that we feel like we can make with him.’’
Hilton-Eason a work in progress
Tuesday was a busy day for T.Y. Hilton. He was on the receiving end of five of Eason’s 12 completions during team work.
That they remain a work in progress is an understatement. Hilton said the first time he caught passes from Eason was after Wentz’s suffered his foot injury July 28.
“It’s going to take time, but it was a good start,’’ Hilton said of Tuesday’s work. “We’re in the right direction. Just continue to build that trust in one another. I know the spots he wants me at.’’
Left tackle still up in the air
Until Eric Fisher is cleared and settles into the left tackle spot, the Colts have a problem. Who’s the guy?
Julién Davenport? Will Holden? Sam Tevi? Davenport started against the Panthers before being replaced by Holden, who promptly gave up a sack that resulted in a lost fumble by Eason. Tevi worked at right tackle against Carolina.
“It’s still early,’’ Brady said. “We’ve got one game under our belt to kind of evaluate. We’ll see where it goes from here. We’ll wait.
“Nobody’s really taken the position yet and I assume eventually – couple more weeks, couple more games – we’ll have that answer for you.’’
Brady said overall, the tackles endured a slow start but improved as the game unfolded.
The Colts signed Fisher to a one-year, $9.4 million contract in mid-May, knowing he probably wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season. The two-time Pro Bowl selection tore an Achilles tendon in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jan. 24 AFC Championship game win over Buffalo.
Fisher has been working the team’s rehab staff, but remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
More than a dozen players were held out of Tuesday’s practice, but there were a few notable returnees.
Rookie defensive end Kwity Paye (sprained right ankle), defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (foot), tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) and wideout Ashton Dulin returned.
Among those not practicing: Wentz, wideout Parris Campbell (illness), center Ryan Kelly (elbow), guard Quenton Nelson (foot), offensive lineman Danny Pinter (foot), defensive end Tyquan Lewis, linebacker E.J. Speed (knee), cornerback T.J. Carrie (knee) and cornerback Marvell Tell III (groin).