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Matt Ryan's leadership highlights deep QB group.


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Roster Review: Ryan's leadership highlights deep QB group

George Bremer

 

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich talks with quarterback Matt Ryan, right, and quarterback Nick Foles during a practice on June 8 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

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INDIANAPOLIS – There doesn’t figure to be a great deal of competition at the quarterback spot when the Indianapolis Colts begin training camp practices July 27 in Westfield.

But the group could be the roster’s deepest since Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck top-lined the position in 2015.

It remains to be seen if that will signal an upturn for a passing game that ranked 26th in the NFL last season.

 

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THE STARTER

The greatest hope for a turnaround lies with Matt Ryan, a 14-year veteran who arrived in a March trade with the Atlanta Falcons.

The 37-year-old’s numbers were down pretty much across the board in 2021 as he completed 67% of his passes for 3,968 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. It marked the first time since 2010 Ryan failed to throw for at least 4,000 yards, and his touchdown total was the lowest since 2017.

But the savvy quarterback helped drag a limited Atlanta roster to seven victories and kept the team on the fringe of the NFC playoff race for much of the season.

Leadership is a key reason the Colts believe Ryan will mark an upgrade for their 2022 offense. He’s already taken command of the locker room, with several teammates comparing him favorably to 2020 starter Philip Rivers.

His accuracy, decision-making and ability to read the defense at the line of scrimmage also provide reason for hope.

“I feel like, personally, I’m a lot further along when it comes to terminology and kind of understanding what we’re trying to do offensively,” Ryan said at the conclusion of last month’s veteran mini-camp. “So I feel a lot more comfortable now. I thought we had really good effort from the guys during the spring.

“I thought the ability to lock in and really focus on what we’re trying to get better at – guys did a great job with that. All in all, I think everybody’s pleased with how the last few weeks have gone.”

Ryan’s ability to translate that comfort level onto the field will go a long way toward determining whether Indianapolis can win the AFC South for the first time since 2014.

He ranks eighth in NFL history with 59,735 passing yards and ninth with 367 touchdown passes.

Ryan was the league’s MVP in 2016, completing 69.9% of his passes for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns while leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl. He led the league in pass attempts (626) and completions (407) in 2020, completing 65% of his throws for 4,581 yards and 26 scores.

Ryan will not be a long-term solution to Indianapolis’ revolving door under center. He’s in line to be the fifth different Week 1 starter in as many seasons under head coach Frank Reich, but the Colts believe he has enough left in the tank to stabilize the position in the short term.

“He did everything right – just great leadership, great play,” Reich said of the quarterback’s performance this spring. “I mean, the whole way he took command. (It was) great collaborating as an offensive staff with him to kind of work in and nuance some of the things we do to kind of suit him and his style.”

 

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DEPTH

Nick Foles gives Indianapolis an experienced backup with a history in a similar offense.

Foles is most famous for his Super Bowl MVP season in 2017, when he relieved an injured Carson Wentz – the 2021 starter for the Colts – and helped lead the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl win. Reich was the offensive coordinator for that team, and the two men formed a strong bond that should help the 33-year-old quarterback quickly adapt to his new surroundings.

“We have a great friendship, but at the same time he’s the head coach of this team, and I understand that,” Foles said after signing with Indianapolis in May. “And my role is to be the backup quarterback of this team, and I understand that role as well. And I think teams that work well, they’re obviously all working as a team in one unit.

“But if you know your roles and you can be the best you can be at your role every single day and get a little bit better, that’s how teams succeed.”

Foles has made 56 starts over 10 seasons with the Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. He’s completed 62.4% of his passes for 14,003 yards with 82 touchdowns and 43 interceptions, and his teams are 29-27 in his regular-season starts.

 

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ON THE BUBBLE

Second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger and undrafted rookie Jack Coan round out the depth chart.

After a celebrated college career at Texas, Ehlinger impressed as a rookie in 2021 with his quick mastery of the offense and natural leadership. In fact, the 23-year-old helped teach Foles the nuances of the offense this spring.

Coan played the majority of his college career at Wisconsin before transferring to Notre Dame for his final season in 2021. He was a college teammate of star Colts running back Jonathan Taylor with the Badgers.

It remains to be seen whether Indianapolis will carry three quarterbacks on the regular-season roster as it has done in each of the past two seasons. If so, both of these young passers could stick around for the year with one joining the practice squad.

Ehlinger’s experience and intangibles give him a leg up in the race for the No. 3 role.

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