Colts play long game at QB

Silence can be excrutiating when you are willing the phone to ring.

Minutes stretch to hours, hours stretch to days and there might even be a moment of fear thinking, “Nobody’s going to call at all.”

The phone finally rang for Jacob Eason, but not until the fourth round of the NFL draft. He hoped to hear from someone like the Indianapolis Colts on April 23 but had to wait until two days later.

At the least, Eason might need a brief stay on the disabled list with a bruised ego. But it could have been worse if he ended up a wallflower, not even invited to dance.

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The 6-foot-6, 231-pound Eason, 22, was drafted by a team that just invested $25 million in Philip Rivers and recommitted to backup Jacoby Brissett. So the ex-University of Washington quarterback knows the best he can hope for is third string.

The prognosis for 2020 is he will be as deeply immersed in is playbook as a first-year law student in his textbooks. Eason has less chance of accumulating grass stains on his uniform than spilling ketchup on his clothes in the cafeteria.

And yet two years from now, Eason could be the Colts’ starting QB, the man of the the future. Maybe.

“He does have a gun for an arm,” coach Frank Reich said Monday, “so we are going to be working on improving accuracy. I think his accuracy is solid. It can get better and it has to get better. Reich said Eason has to work on footwork and reading things on the field and “pocket awareness.”

The Eason football odyssey began with a sterling high school career in Lake Stevens, Washington, about 35 miles from Seattle. Instead of sticking close to home, he enrolled at Georgia and as a freshman threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns.

But in the first game of the next season, he was waylaid by a late hit against Appalachian State and was toast with an injured knee, giving way to prodigy Jake Fromm. Eason never started for the Bulldogs again and transferred to Washington. Last fall, he threw for 3,132 yards and 23 touchdowns. Then he declared for the draft.

April 23 could have been the happiest day of Eason’s life but wasn’t, as teams ignored him. April 25 was a consolation prize but by definition an opportunity.

In a nonsugarcoated interview after his Colts selection, where Eason was asked how he felt about sitting around waiting, waiting, he was diplomatic, though it is even money under his breath he was probably saying “I’ll show those guys.”

Eason admitted he thought he would go higher, late first round or early second. He alternately said he was “grateful” and “blessed” to be a Colt.

“It was disheartening to see no quarterbacks being picked (later),” Eason said.

Indianapolis studied the heck out of Eason’s performance and history, and coach Frank Reich, general manager Chris Ballard and team scouts spent more time on Zoom or Skype with Eason than some directors do on a film set making a full-length movie.

“You get comfortable with them,” Reich said. “It’s not just as a football player but as a person. You talk to them. You dig deep. You try to figure out what makes a guy tick.

“I saw a guy who has all the physical tools to play the position — arm strength, really good arm talent, can make all the throws to all spots on the field. I think he is a pocket passer but has the athletic ability to move, and just think, he is still young and developing in the position.”

It is always a good thing when the head coach says nice things about you, particularly since he was a former NFL quarterback, as Reich was.

Arm strength or not, every team in the league had shots at Eason and skipped over his name. Of 13 QBs picked, those taken ahead of him were Joe Burrow, Jordan Love, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert in the first round and Jalen Hurts in the second round. Eason was the sixth quarterback off the board. His old rival Fromm went into the fifth round, and a few others were chosen in the sixth and seventh rounds.

Over the months leading up to the draft, Eason said he worked on being more consistent with his accuracy and worked on what he said was his general football IQ.

Studying under Professor Rivers, who is good for two years tops as a Colt, could be a difference-maker in Eason’s career.