WESTFIELD, Ind. – As much as possible, things are trending in the right direction at the most anxiety-producing position for the Indianapolis Colts.
That would be quarterback.
We’re still no closer to learning whether Carson Wentz’s surgically-repaired left foot will allow him to be under center for the Sept. 12 season opener against the Seattle Seahawks – that time, though, isn’t far off – but Plan B at least seems viable following Sunday’s preseason opener against Carolina.
The new offensive catalyst hit the two-week mark Monday on surgery to “excise’’ a bone fragment from a prior injury that worked its way loose on the second day of training camp. Rehab time is in the 5-12-week range.
Frank Reich has remained hopeful Wentz’s return would be on the front-end of that timeline, but declined to be more precise.
“We feel good where we’re at at the two-week window,’’ he said Monday. “Just don’t see the advantage of me trying to predict that out.’’
Wentz began watching practice last Tuesday, eight days after his Aug. 2 surgery. He didn’t wear a protective boot on his left foot and didn’t walk with a noticeable limp.
“I think that’s very positive,’’ Reich said. “I continue to be optimistic about his return, but it still doesn’t make any sense for me to predict when that’ll be as the rehab continues and he starts pushing it.
“You don’t know. Is there a setback along the way when you really start going harder and you really start testing it out? Right now everything feels like it’s great, but how far have we really tested it? That’s why it makes sense . . . ‘Hey, let’s get him further into this process and rehab and actually getting on the field and taking next steps there to determine the pace that we go.’’’
Soon, Wentz will participate in walkthroughs that Reich values in daily and weekly preparation. At some point, he’ll start throwing and relying on his proper mechanics, which obviously involves stresses in the left foot.
“When you throwing, that could mean a lot of different things,’’ Reich said. “He’s been sticking to a plan, and that plan has been going well.
“But just feel like these next two weeks will be really critical for him to stay on course.’’
That’s also true with Quenton Nelson. The All-Pro left guard underwent surgery on his right foot Aug. 3.
Wentz and Nelson, Reich insisted, “have done a good job in the rehab process with the right mentality.’’
With uncertainty surrounding Wentz’s availability, the Colts have decided – at least for now – to stay in-house and allow Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger to develop during the preseason.
Owner Jim Irsay reiterated that stance during an appearance on Sunday’s TV broadcast, with a caveat.
“I think we’d really like to stay as is,’’ he said. “Unless we really feel like someone can come in and if Carson is going to miss the first two, hypothetically, if someone could come in and make Frank feel, ‘Hey, we can win these games with a veteran coming in,’ you know we’d do that.’’
“But we like these young guys, and we think they’ll develop in the preseason.’’
After opening against the Seahawks Sept. 12 at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Los Angeles Rams visit Sept. 19.
Eason and Ehlinger are in the midst of an up-and-down training camp while splitting reps with the starting offense in Wentz’s absence, but both took an authoritative step forward against the Panthers.
Eason completed 15-of-21 passes for 183 yards – his receivers dropped at least three passes – and directed a two-minute drive at the close of the first half that ended with Jordan Wilkins’ 3-yard yard touchdown run. He pushed the football down the field and generated three chunk plays: a 37-yard completion to Parris Campbell, a 32-yarder to rookie Michael Strachan and a 26-yarder to Dezmon Patmon.
Ehlinger finished 10-of-15 for 155 yards and one interception, and directed the offense to a touchdown and Eddy Pineiro’s game-winning 30-yard field goal on his final two possessions.
It was only one preseason game, but it at least proved Plan B is worth pursuing for now.
Reich called the Carolina game “one of the key checkpoints’’ of the preseason after three weeks of camp.
“We were assuming the best,’’ he said. “We were assuming the game would go like it did, that they would both look good. But naturally in this league . . . it’s a meritocracy. You’ve got to go out there and show it, and they both showed up well in the game.
“That’s a very positive thing. So in some ways, that kind of affirms the stance that we’ve taken, and we’ll continue to go down that road, assuming things will continue to get better. I have no reason to think anything other than that.’’
After Eason played the first half and Ehlinger the second half against Carolina, Reich plans to flip the order Saturday at Minnesota.
Kelly coming back?
The offensive line could benefit from the return of Ryan Kelly. The Pro Bowl center has been out since hyperextending his left elbow July 29, the second day of camp.
Reich indicated Kelly isn’t likely to practice Tuesday or Wednesday, but he could return Thursday.
Eberflus ‘feeling great’
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is the latest coach to suffer a “breakthrough’’ case of COVID-19. He’s fully vaccinated and asymptomatic but tested positive and missed Sunday’s game.
“I talked to Flus this morning,’’ Reich said. “He’s asymptomatic, feeling great. We feel really good about that and obviously just want him to take care of himself.’’
Previously, Reich missed the start of camp after a breakthrough positive test. The Colts, he insisted, are going “above and beyond’’ NFL COVID-19 protocols.
“We still know and believe it’s better to be vaccinated because the symptoms are lessened,’’ Reich said. “We’re following every protocol that we can. We’ll continue to be stringent upon that and just do the little things.
“We know this thing isn’t going to go away anytime soon probably so we’re going to continue to take a responsible approach as an organization and try to do the right thing.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.