INDIANAPOLIS — Carson Wentz will be under as much pressure as any player in the NFL this year.
He’ll be the Indianapolis Colts’ fourth new starting quarterback in as many years, and the expectation is he’ll be the third to lead the team to the postseason. To make that happen, however, the 28-year-old must put a disastrous 2020 season behind him.
Wentz threw a career-high 15 interceptions and was sacked a league-leading 50 times. He completed just 57.4% of his passes, and the Philadelphia Eagles were 3-8-1 in his 12 starts before the 2016 No. 2 overall pick was benched for the final month of the regular season.
The offseason was full of anonymous reports about the quarterback’s uncoachability and inability to connect with some of his teammates. He’s viewed by many in Philly – perhaps the nation’s toughest sports town – as a deserter who let down the franchise after an enormous amount of investment in his future.
In Indianapolis, however, he’ll get a fresh start. And he’s not trying to live up to anybody’s standards but his own.
“This is the position that I’ve chosen,” Wentz said. “There’s always pressure. There’s always going to be pressure. There’s always going to be expectations. Those things are always going to be there. For me, it’s been the same thing throughout my whole career — just go to work. Go to work, get better every day and block out the outside noise — good, bad or indifferent. It doesn’t matter.
“I’ve felt a lot of excitement around here, and obviously we have high expectations and all of those things, but — just the culture and how it’s just one day at a time mindset — that’s the mindset of this team, and that’s the mindset I’m going to take every single day I come to work.”
The Colts have a lot riding on Wentz. There is no veteran backup, and none of the four quarterbacks on the roster have ever taken a snap with the team.
Jacob Eason, a second-year passer out of the University of Washington, is the clubhouse favorite to earn the No. 2 job. He’ll have competition from rookie sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger and big-armed youngster Jalen Morton.
General manager Chris Ballard still hasn’t ruled out adding competition to this mix, but Indianapolis has some degree of confidence in Eason. He spent last year learning from Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett and already has begun attending private workouts with Wentz.
Eason was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and impressed as a freshman starter at Georgia. But an injury sidelined him for his true sophomore season, and he lost his job to Jake Fromm. Another year was lost as a transfer back home to Washington before he finally got back on the field in 2019.
Last year was another redshirt year for Eason, who was on the active roster all season but never saw game action.
“I was learning the mental (aspect) last year, but I wasn’t getting a lot of reps,” Eason said. “I think with, yes, understanding the mental and now getting the reps, I think those two together will help me be able to show these coaches and these guys some things that I can do. Obviously, (I have) a ton of room for improvement — always continue to grow and just look to get better.”
Eason’s growth and the backup competition will make for interesting summer storylines, but everything ultimately comes back to Wentz.
He’s worked hard to connect with his new teammates on a personal level since the trade with the Eagles became official in March, and he ramped up those efforts over the past two weeks with on-field team workouts. Wentz plans to organize offseason throwing sessions with his teammates and find other bonding activities he believes will pay off on game days.
He’s yet to be sacked or throw a costly interception or lose a game, but the early returns from the locker room have been fantastic. Wentz has displayed none of the behavior he was criticized for in Philadelphia, and he’s already left an imprint on the Colts.
“He’s not a shy guy — very outspoken — but (he’s) just come in with good command of the offense, really good preparation so that whether we’re in a meeting or stepping out on the field — just the level of command that he has in the huddle — the guys can feel that,” Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said. “Just physically, I think, when he’s out there on the field … you can just feel his presence physically on the field.
“He’s a dominant, physical specimen for the position, and you feel that when he’s out there.”