Frank Reich: Sam Ehlinger 'Earned' Promotion to Backup Quarterback

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich on Sunday explained his decision to promote second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger to No. 2 on the depth chart, hinting at a potential package of plays for the former Texas standout.

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(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Get ready for the "Sam Ehlinger Package."

Ehlinger, the second-year Texas product, has been promoted to backup quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, playing behind veteran starter Matt Ryan. It's a decision head coach Frank Reich explained on Sunday had little to do with the performance of former No. 2 quarterback Nick Foles, and more about the unique skillset Ehlinger brings to the Indy offense on gameday.

"You guys know I love Nick Foles. I think he's incredible. I mean, he's an incredible player. And he's looked great in practice for the last five, six weeks. This was just more of a philosophical decision," Reich told reporters after Sunday's victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. "And when you're struggling to do certain things on offense, it just seemed like a logical conclusion. And Sam earned that right, now. … Sam also earned the right by what he did in preseason and how he's continued to look."

Reich said he sees Ehlinger's role being similar to that of Jacoby Brissett's when he backed up Andrew Luck in 2018 and Philip Rivers in 2020. Brissett, whose elusive nature and ability to extend plays down the field made him a tough on-the-go matchup for opposing defenses, eventually became a quarterback sneak specialist of sorts, logging 18 snaps in 2018 and 47 in 2020 in a season in which he converted nine first downs on the ground.

Exactly what the "Ehlinger Package" will potentially look like, and how much it could mirror Brissett's prior role, is yet to be seen. Ehlinger was active for the first time this season on Sunday, but did not log a snap in the Colts' 32-27 come-from-behind victory over the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Ehlinger did log 19 snaps at quarterback as rookie last season with the Colts, but was mostly used in mop-up duty at the end of lopsided victories over the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans. But he did move the chains using his legs on a 3rd-and-4 play against the Bills, and then was used on a goal-to-goal situation Week 9 against the New York Jets, though he was brought down just short of the goal line on his lone offensive snap that day.

But as Ehlinger has displayed during his extended preseason action the last two years, he can be much more than a "running quarterback." He worked his way back from throwing three interceptions during the 2021 preseason his rookie year to turn in a standout exhibition performance in 2022, completing 24-of-29 total passes (82.8 percent) for 289 yards with four touchdowns to zero interceptions; he also ran the ball six times for 71 yards and another touchdown.

Reich said he doesn't anticipate changing the Colts' new quarterback structure moving forward. While all players will continue to be evaluated on a week-to-week basis, Reich is looking forward to whatever opportunities that might arise to get his young quarterback involved in the offense.

"We'll continue to have a package for Sam," Reich said. "Just like with Jacoby, some weeks we used it, some weeks we didn't use it. And we keep looking for opportunities to put stress on defense."

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