INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Kelly has been front and center for the revolving door at the Indianapolis Colts’ most influential position.
And he was quick to set the record straight.
So, Ryan, four years, four different quarterbacks.
“Five,’’ Kelly said, correcting the questioner.
Five. I lost track.
There was a time continuity prevailed. From 1998-2010, Peyton Manning started 208 consecutive games, 227 including the playoffs. From 2012-15, Andrew Luck was under center for 57 consecutive starts.
And now this.
When the Seattle Seahawks visit Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday, the Colts will rely on a fifth different opening-day starter since 2017. Let’s recap:
- Scott Tolzien
- Andrew Luck
- Jacoby Brissett
- Philip Rivers
- Barring an unexpected setback in his rehab from Aug. 2 foot surgery, Carson Wentz
The streak would continue even without Wentz as Jacob Eason would make not only his first NFL appearance, but NFL start.
The last time the Colts endured a similar five-season stretch: 1991-95. The opening-day starting cast consisted of Jeff George, Mark Herrmann, Jack Trudeau, Jim Harbaugh and Craig Erickson.
Frank Reich smiled as he considered yet another season of change. It all began with Luck’s shoulder issue that forced him to miss the 2017 season – hello, Scott Tolzien, who quickly yielded the huddle to Jacoby Brissett following the opening 46-9 blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams – and accelerated with Luck’s sudden retirement two weeks before the ’19 opener.
“It’s just we’ve had unique circumstances for the last few years,’’ Reich said. “Honestly, it feels like normal . . . it feels like normal.’’
He laughed, hoping Wentz proves to be the long-term answer.
“We’re ready for a change for it to be more normal, right?’’ he said.
The Colts reacted to Rivers’ retirement in January by doing a deep dive into their quarterback options and determining Wentz was their best alternative. General manager Chris Ballard sent the Philadelphia Eagles a 2021 third-round draft pick and what will be a 2022 first-rounder if Wentz meets play-time requirements; otherwise it’s a ’22 second-round pick.
Rivers was viewed as a short-term fix in 2020. That’s not the case with Wentz.
“I believe that circumstances put this situation together which is ideal for the Indianapolis Colts,’’ owner Jim Irsay said. “I really feel that it’s a rare long-term answer that you’re able to achieve through a trade. It doesn’t happen very (often).
“He’s a veteran, but he’s a young veteran.’’
The main drawback to Wentz’s first start as a Colt is lack of preparation. Since the Aug. 2 foot surgery, he had three days of limited work at training camp – everything except 11-on-11 drills – along with Monday’s condensed session and three practices starting with Wednesday.
Wentz’s rehab was interrupted last week when he was placed on the COVID-19 list as a close-contact case.
On the positive side, the Colts have known Wentz would be under center since the day the trade was finalized, and operated accordingly.
“Since it’s all kind of happening at the beginning of the year, I just think we already have a chance to kind of get a feel for what flavor, what emphasis our team is going to have with a new quarterback,’’ Reich said. “We’ve already been getting that flavor the whole offseason talking to our team and projecting with our team: ‘Here’s who we’re going to be. Here’s the things that don’t change. Here’s the things that are going to slightly change.’
“Always giving a vision for what we want to be, but then allowing it to work out organically.’’
Hines as OC?
Nyheim Hines’ eyes lit up at the suggestion.
He’s been the Colts’ most versatile offensive weapons since being selected in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. He’s rushed for 893 yards and seven touchdowns, caught 170 passes for 1,227 yards and six TDs and added two TDs on punt returns. The 170 receptions, by the way, are the most by a Colts running back in his first three seasons and tied for 4th-most among all positions.
Imagine, Hines was asked, if Reich asked you to be offensive coordinator for a week. How would Nyheim Hines, offensive coordinator, use Nyheim Hines, running back?
“Everybody would get touches, we would still run the ball and I think for me I would just get in space, get some screens, maybe catch a couple of deep balls,’’ he said. “We have J.T. (Jonathan Taylor), have Marlon (Mack) out there . . . get everyone else involved and try to sneak me in there when not expected.’’
Getting Hines involved hasn’t been as simple as it seems. While appearing in all 51 games, including the playoffs, he’s never been on the field for more than 44% of the snaps. It was 36% last season. He’s had more than 10 rushing attempts in a game just four times, and been a steadier factor in the passing game with at least four receptions in 20 games.
Last season, Hines’ big-play skills were on display. Of his 89 rushing attempts, 17 – 19%, the highest rate in the NFL – picked up at least 10 yards. At Detroit in week 8, he had 22- and 29-yard touchdown receptions.