INDIANAPOLIS – There’s one thing no one should question about Sam Ehlinger.
He’ll always be prepared for whatever might come.
He’s a process guy.
He’s ready for post-Anthony Richardson.
You don’t believe it? He was part of the Indianapolis Colts’ chaotic 2022; that seems the most politically correct description. We won’t dive too deeply into the rabbit hole other than to mention the firing of coaches, the hiring of a franchise icon/ESPN analyst and three different quarterbacks being in and out of the lineup, and back in. And back out.
Ehlinger smiled at the memory. The 2021 sixth-round draft pick got a very small taste of NFL life as a rookie: 18 total snaps in three mop-up appearances, zero pass attempts.
Then, year 2.
The smile was from a recent conversation Ehlinger had with wife Cami Jo.
“I was telling my wife that last year, having a chance to go in, you don’t know what to expect because you’ve never played regular-season football,’’ he said.
Those 18 snaps in ’21 weren’t really playing the position.
Last season was playing the position in one of the worst situations possible for a young, still-developing quarterback. He started three games and his experience ran the gamut.
*he probably should have led the Colts to home wins over Washington and Houston.
*he was sacked nine times and part of an absolutely miserable trip to New England in week 10.
It will serve him well for whatever the rest of the season holds.
“Now with the experience, it gives you a different level of confidence,’’ Ehlinger said.
So, did last season prepare him for anything?
“It did . . . 100%,’’ he said.
That brings us back to Ehlinger being prepared – better prepared – for his new seat in the quarterbacks room.
The decision for Richardson to undergo season-ending surgery on his right shoulder moves Ehlinger from the No. 3 spot on the depth chart to No. 2 behind Gardner Minshew II for the remainder of the season. He also was Minshew’s backup for the overtime win at Baltimore and last Sunday’s loss in Jacksonville.
There’s a significant difference in that pecking order.
The No. 2 guy is one play away from being the guy.
“I think the process stays the same, absolutely,’’ Ehlinger said. “That should be true regardless of where you are on the depth chart, whatever position.
“But there is a different feel when you know you are one play away, for sure. If you’re just playing the odds and you’re simply looking at the statistics, the chance of being a 3 and getting in aren’t that great.
“There is statistical significance of likelihood of playing when you’re at the 3 spot versus the 2 spot.’’
He’s spot on.
He was put on high alert during the win over the Ravens when Minshew got up from one hit in the pocket and appeared to be shaken up.
“Yeah, he got hit in the ribs,’’ Ehlinger said.
Some observers thought Shane Steichen might have to turn to his backup.
“I did, too,’’ Ehlinger said.
That one-play-away reality doesn’t alter a player’s approach, but amps up the anticipation.
“That changes not the process, but the emotions that are associated with the preparation,’’ he said. “That is helpful in a lot of ways because it gives you a different type of energy and there’s a different layer of importance to your preparation.’’
Buckner: Stewart will be missed
One of the NFL’s premier defensive tackle tandems has been temporarily separated.
Grover Stewart, DeForest Buckner’s constant sidekick since the 2020 trade that brought Buckner to Indy, has been suspended for the next six games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substances policy.
“I mean, it’s tough,’’ Buckner said Thursday. “It’s unfortunate it happened to him. We all know Grove’s character and we know that we would never intentionally cheat himself or cheat the game.
“We’re all responsible for what we put in our bodies. We’ve all got to make sure we take the right steps to knowing what’s going in our body. It was just unfortunate that it was him. We all know he would never intentionally try to do that to hurt the team’’
For the next six games, coordinator Gus Bradley and d-line coach Nate Ollie must compensate for the absence of one of the NFL’s top-level run-stoppers. Stewart’s stat line for the 2017 fourth-round pick: 259 tackles, including 27 for loss; 8.5 sacks, 27 quarterback hits.
Since 2020, Buckner and Stewart have shared the field for 55 of 56 games. Buckner missed week 12 against Tennessee because of COVID-19. Stewart has missed just two of a possible 104 regular-season games since being selected in the fourth round of the 2017 draft and the suspension will snap his streak of 69 consecutive starts.
“We’ve got to do a really good job inside obviously splitting up the reps,’’ Buckner said. “Guys have got to step up. Inside guys and outside guys, we’ve got to step up and make sure we fill that void.
“Obviously, Grove is a big, big part of our d-line and of the defense.’’
Look for Eric Johnson II and Taven Bryan to be the primary stopgaps.
Buckner is one of the league’s top 3-technique tackles. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl selection and was first-team All-Pro in 2020 and second team in ’19.
Does he anticipate more attention with Stewart out? Maybe additional double teams?
“You know what, double teams are coming with or without him,’’ Buckner said. “I’ve just got to keep preparing like I normally do’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.