WESTFIELD, Ind. — Colts quarterback Carson Wentz did not practice Friday due to a foot injury, which offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said is in the process of being evaluated.
So up stepped Jacob Eason, figuratively and literally — as in, he had to step up in the pocket a few times on what was a standout day for the Colts' defensive line, led by strong practices from Kwity Paye, Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu.
And handling all that pressure was one area of practice in which Brady thought Eason did well.
"I thought he did a good job moving in the pocket," Brady said. "Obviously the defense can say they got quite a few sacks. But overall I thought he handled it well. (Quarterbacks coach) Scott Milanovich did a great job of working it in the individual drill, we're trying to stress when you're moving, keep two hands on the football to protect that football. Obviously we don't want that catastrophic play. So I thought he handled it well, he got out of the pocket, just don't force throws down the field. If it's not there, get the three, four-yard gain or check it down to the back.
The Colts focused on third downs during Friday's practice. Add that situational emphasis to both the offense and defense installing plays, and it was a recipe for Eason to throw short and check down frequently throughout the morning.
"(Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) played a lot of shell, middle open coverage today which forces you to check the ball down if you don't have the right plays to attack that coverage," Brady said. "We're going to look at it in film — we don't want to scheme too much against our defense, we gotta run plays that fit our offense first. Then once we get into the season we'll be able to scheme the defense."
Brady added he though Eason did well getting in and out of the huddle and made all the right checks at the line of scrimmage on Friday.
Eason didn't practice much in 2020 as the pandemic wiped out OTAs, minicamps and preseason games; with Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett ahead of him on the Colts' depth chart, there weren't many opportunities for him in the limited practice time available, too. So Eason has only been regularly practicing against an NFL defense for three days now, which Brady and the Colts are keeping in perspective after just a handful of days of work.
"(It's) definitely going to get him more confidence because now he's going to be able to envision these plays in his head, it's going to make him think much quicker, it's going to accelerate his vision," Brady said. "So it's good that he's going to be able to accumulate all these reps."
Return of the Mack
Running back Marlon Mack admitted it was "scary" to make his first cut on the field after suffering a season-ending Achilles' injury in the first game of the Colts' 2020 season. But after a week or two earlier this year, he got comfortable — and now, on the fields at Grand Park, you couldn't tell he suffered a serious injury less than a year ago.
"He's looked really good," Brady said. "These last few days he's had some nice, explosive runs, he's making nice cuts — he's always had great vision, but you can see the cutting in the hole on the field so you can see he's fully healthy. I love watching him run because he sets up blocks very well and he's fun to watch.
"… I have not noticed the injury. It looks like he's full go."
Where Mack fits in to a crowded, talented Colts backfield will be an interesting storyline to follow this season. But he said he's not worried about how coaches divide up touches between him, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.
"It don't matter to me," Mack said. "We're going to get carries, we're going to spread it out and have fun with it and we're going to do our job."
- Center Ryan Kelly will be out a few weeks with an elbow injury, Brady said, adding "he'll be okay."
- Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, left guard Quenton Nelson and tight end Jack Doyle all had rest days and did not participate in Friday's practice.
- We shouldn't undersell how disruptive Turay, Paye and Banogu all were throughout Friday's practice. It was a good day for the Colts' pass rush, with those three players in particular having effective mornings.
- Running back Jonathan Taylor hit a hole and ripped off an explosive run in 11-on-11.
- Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers made a fantastic play on a 50-50 ball in one-on-one drills, preventing wide receiver Ashton Dulin from making a highlight reel catch.
- Quarterback Sam Ehlinger made a nice play in 11 on 11, rolling to his right to extend a play while keeping his eyes downfield to find wide receiver Mike Strachan for a chunk gain.
- Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship said he put on about four pounds this offseason, the product of lifting four to five times a week. And his teammates have noticed, as Blankenship said: "Quenton Nelson told me before walkthrough, he was like, Rod, you're looking bigger, you been lifting weights?"
- That extra strength has translated to Blankenship maxing out at 63 yards, with a few from 66 hitting the crossbar about two or three yards up, the second-year kicker said. Both Blankenship and Eddy Pineiro had good days in kicking field goals, with no misses between the two.
They said it
"Mike Strachan, he's grown ever since we got him early in the spring. He's still picking up the offense but overall we like what we see, he's growing, he's getting better every day. (Mike) Groh's doing a great job with him, he's trying to get a grasp of the offense so he can play faster because obviously he's physical, he's got big size, that's something you want to have. He's just gotta continue to grow." - Offensive coordinator Marcus Brady