The Colts haven't needed rookie Sam Ehlinger to play much this season, outside of a couple of misdirection plays and some garbage-time snaps in blowout wins.
But every week, coaches have prepped the sixth-round pick to be ready to step in at a minute's notice. Such is the life of a backup quarterback in the NFL – you're always one play away from having to come into a game.
The Colts may need Ehlinger this weekend against the Las Vegas Raiders after starting quarterback Carson Wentz was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. And if Ehlinger does make his first NFL start, the Colts are confident in his ability to step in – as they have been all season.
"We go through the plan, (Ehlinger) goes through it and, like, okay, what are your top calls that you feel comfortable with? Doesn't have to be all of them," offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "And so we have that separate call sheet for him ready to go. He goes through all the reads just like Carson does. He may not get the live rep but he'll get it on the side. So he's ready to go."
Back in training camp, the Colts were impressed with Ehlinger's ability to process the defense in front of him and efficiently operate the offense. Head coach Frank Reich raved about Ehlinger's "it factor" back in August, with those intangibles the former four-year Texas Longhorns starter possesses helping accelerate his climb up the NFL learning curve.
"Sam plays really smart," Reich said. "He's got really good instincts. He's mentally very quick on his feet, accelerates his vision as we say, good at progressions, has a knack, he certainly is athletic and can make plays with his feet."
With Wentz out for most of training camp following foot surgery, Ehlinger saw plenty of reps with the Colts' first-team offense in August. Ehlinger suffered a knee injury in the Colts' final preseason game that landed him on injured reserve to start the season. He was activated in October and named the Colts' backup quarterback in early November. And after naming Ehlinger the Colts' backup, Reich again lauded his "natural poise" and "natural leadership."
"Sam has played a lot of football, not at this level, but he's played a lot of winning football and he's a young guy who we drafted who we want to continue to develop," Reich said.
The Colts value Ehlinger's mobility, too, and have envisioned using that skill as a strength if he's needed to play this season.
"He doesn't have as big an arm as Carson, he's going to run around a little bit more than Carson," Brady said. "So we'll adjust to that, and our offense is set up to be able to adapt to that."
So if Ehlinger does need to step in and start against the Raiders this week — a game which, if the Colts win, they clinch a playoff spot — coaches have plenty of confidence in Ehlinger's ability to win.
"Sam has played a lot of football, not at this level," Reich said, "but he's played a lot of winning football."