INDIANAPOLIS – Nothing has changed for Sam Ehlinger.
And yet, everything has changed.
After spending the first five weeks of the season as the Indianapolis Colts’ No. 3 quarterback behind Matt Ryan and Nick Foles, Ehlinger was elevated to No. 2 last week. He was in uniform for Sunday’s 34-27 win over Jacksonville and served as Ryan’s “battle buddy.’’
“Just being there for Matt and talking and then being one play away,’’ Ehlinger said Wednesday.
That one-play-away mindset is at the core of his preparation whether he’s been No. 3 or No. 2 on the depth chart.
“I’ve always had the mentality that you have to prepare like you’re the starter, and that was my mentality (last week),’’ Ehlinger said. “I always want to get better and make sure I’m doing the things that Matt’s doing.
“Nothing has changed.’’
The decision by Frank Reich didn’t necessarily surprise Ehlinger.
“I learned in my first year you never know what’s going to happen,’’ he said. “I don’t think any circumstance is going to surprise me because it’s such a surprising league.’’
That wasn’t Foles’ reaction. He essentially was demoted even though there hasn’t been any positional competition during practices.
“It was a hard conversation to have, but Nick is such a pro,’’ Reich said. “I think he was a little bit shocked at first, but I think he understood why we were doing what we were doing and that it was what was best for the team.
“No way did it diminish how we feel about him and what he brings to our team.’’
“It was a schematic thing,’’ Reich said.
Ehlinger’s mobility can be used in various situations such as short yardage and near the goal line. That was the case in 2020 when the Colts complemented Philip Rivers with Jacoby Brissett.
Reich and coordinator Marcus Brady designed a few plays for Ehlinger last Sunday against Jacksonville, but the opportunity never presented itself.
But while the Colts are intrigued with the possibility of Ehlinger stressing a defense on 3rd-and-goal from the 3, they also must be comfortable with him having to play an extended time if Ryan goes down.
The 2021 6th-round draft pick missed the first six games of his rookie season after suffering a knee injury during the preseason, then was inactive for two games. Ehlinger was Carson Wentz’s backup for the final nine games and was on the field for a total of 18 plays in blowout wins over the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texas.
Ehlinger rushed three times for 9 yards, but has yet to attempt a pass.
Ehlinger insisted the new pecking order at quarterback hasn’t altered his relationship with Foles. Their personal roots are intertwined by attending the same high school in Texas (Westlake).
“I can’t say enough about how great of a man Nick is,’’ Ehlinger said. “ . . . we have a great connection. Our relationship hasn’t changed one bit. We’re messing around and having a good time.
“There’s no person that could have handled it any better than he has.’’
Dennis Kelly: Opportunity knocks
The team’s inability to stabilize left tackle has resulted in a Who’s next? approach.
Next in line: Dennis Kelly.
The 10-year veteran out of Purdue was part of a rotational plan with rookie Bernhard Raimann last Sunday against Jacksonville. But after Raimann started for a second straight game and handled the first two series, Kelly stepped in and finished the game.
Position coach Chris Strausser saw enough from Kelly and decided to ditch the rotational blueprint.
“Dennis got in there and he just looked good,’’ Reich said after the game.
After not taking an offensive snap in the first five games, Kelly was on the field for 70 of 81 against the Jaguars.
“I just wanted to go in and make the most of my opportunity just because of the rotation,’’ Kelly said. “It wasn’t like a set (rotation) where he’s going to get this many snaps and I’m going to get that many.
“It was, ‘We want to get you guys in and see how the game’s flowing.’’’
Kelly admitted the first five games tested his patience. He was limited to 21 total special teams snaps.
One factor delaying any opportunity to see snaps on offense was a knee injury that forced him to miss all of the team’s offseason work and training camp. When he began practicing in early September, it took time for him “to get back into football movements.’’
“It was a process and there was a little bit of waiting to get the knee right,’’ Kelly said.
The team hopes Kelly provides stability at left tackle. That’s something neither Matt Pryor, who started the first four games, nor Raimann, who started the last two, was able to do.
In all likelihood, Kelly starts Sunday at Tennessee and gives the latest offensive line combination a chance to develop. It will be the fourth different combination in as many weeks.
“I want to do what I can to help the team win,’’ Kelly said, “but at the same time I want to play. How do you keep playing? You play well.
“Don’t be a reason the offense has to change the way it’s doing things.’’
Kelly has started 51 of 119 in 10 seasons. If he starts against the Titans, it will be just his fifth at left tackle. He primarily has been a right tackle.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.