Colts prepare for Titans with uncertainty at quarterback
By MICHAEL MAROT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis coach Frank Reich still doesn't know who will start at quarterback against Tennessee.
Carson Wentz has two sprained ankles and missed Wednesday's practice and the Colts have only two other healthy quarterbacks on the roster - Jacob Eason and Brett Hundley.
So Reich is preparing for Sunday's key division game with Eason taking first-team snaps. Wentz is hopeful he can recover quickly enough to give it a shot.
"Still sore, both of them and working through it," Wentz said after walking without a boot to a microphone. "Honestly, a lot of unknown. See how my body responds and doing everything we can. Each day, shoot, each couple of hours it's gotten better. So, we'll see how it continue to progress."
Wentz hurt his right ankle when he got twisted around in a pile midway through the fourth quarter of last week's loss to the Los Angeles Rams and said he was fortunate it wasn't broken. The left ankle, Wentz believes, was injured during the third quarter.
He spent the previous two days studying film, getting treatment and resting.
While it sounds as if Wentz may not practice Thursday, Reich declined to rule him out even though his general rule is a player must practice at least Friday to play - though he has made exceptions.
Wentz said he's played after being limited in practice, he couldn't recall playing without practicing.
The timing couldn't be worse.
Indy is off to its first 0-2 start during Reich's four-year tenure and is trying to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2011 when Peyton Manning missed the entire season after having neck surgery.
And after earning wild-card spots in two of the past three seasons, the Colts know they can take a big step toward winning the AFC South if they get a road win over the defending division champs.
"We just have to approach the week like we're 2-0 because you can't let this thing snowball into 0-3, 0-4, 0-5," All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said.
So the Colts are doing what they can. They're preparing slightly different game plans for Wentz and Eason, closely monitoring Wentz's progression and working to get back in sync.
It's not just Indy, either.
The Titans also are studying both Colts quarterbacks though that may prove a tougher challenge given the limited amount of game tape.
Wentz is in the midst of his sixth NFL season, but has only two games with Indy. And if he doesn't practice at all this week, it would be the fifth time that's happened since training camp.
"Honestly, I'm expecting to see Wentz," Tennessee safety Kevin Byard said. "We'll prepare for both quarterbacks, for sure. Wentz has been a quarterback in this league for a long time, and I know Eason, he's a younger guy. But we'll prepare for both of them as if I think both of them are starting quarterbacks in this league."
Eason started his college career at Georgia and finished at his home state school, Washington. He has thrown five passes since Indy drafted him in 2020 - all coming in the waning minutes last week as he tried, unsuccessfully, to rally Indy from a 27-24 deficit. He completed two passes for 25 yards and was picked off by All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey on his second throw.
Reich believes Eason can get the job done.
"We've got a lot of confidence in every man on this roster," Reich said Monday and reiterated Wednesday. "If called upon, I'm confident Jacob will do a nice job. The situation he got thrown into the other day is as tough as it gets. I can tell you that from experience. But yeah, he'll be ready if he has to be."
The Colts also have other injury concerns.
Though Reich said left tackle Eric Fisher came out of his Colts debut in good shape, right tackle Braden Smith did not practice because of a strained foot. Indy deactivated Smith against the Rams because of the injury, preventing the offensive line from playing its first game with all five projected starters.
Indy has given up six sacks and 21 quarterback hits in two games, including the two that led to Wentz's injuries.
Now the Colts must wait to see if Wentz can play through the pain - or whether Eason will make his first pro start.
"There's no question it's a different approach if Carson's in there," Reich said. "The obvious answer is we have to approach it like he's not going to be in there given everything that we know and then be surprised if he is in there. He's not ruled out. We'll just see how it goes."
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, also contributed to this report.
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Updated September 22, 2021