Colts inevitable COVID issues arise at worst time


This felt inevitable. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz’s refusal to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus seemed certain to produce a positive test sometime and seemed destined to occur just when he was needed most.

And here we are.

After righting their season following a slow-motion start, the Colts turned into one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They still need to keep winning and are poised to possibly clinch a playoff spot when they face the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday.

But pilot Wentz may be grounded. Right now he is. The only thing that could propel him back into action after flunking the coronavirus test is the league’s abrupt reduction of quarantine time to five days.

If Wentz wakes up Sunday and passes Colts medical protocols he could play. Otherwise, on one of the most important days of the season, the franchise will count on sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger, a rookie out of the University of Texas who may get the opportunity to throw his first professional pass.

People might wonder if teammates are in the locker room mumbling, “Moron” because Wentz would not take his medicine (he has not said why).

And how much faith is there in Ehlinger, just because of his inexperience? The 6-foot-1, 220-pound native of Austin, Tex. came across as sharp, intelligent, composed and reflective in a Zoom press conference.

Coach Frank Reich said of Ehlinger Wednesday, “At this point Sam is our starter. I think Sam is made for moments like this.”

Ehlinger pretty much admitted during the pre-season he had no idea what he was doing. “I was just trying to stay afloat,” he said.

Someone mentioned this could be an uncomfortable situation, practicing as the starter all week, yet not really knowing if he will be the man. Ehlinger, 23, said he had dealt with some uncomfortable situations in his life.

That is an understatement. His father died of a heart attack at 46 when competing in a triathlon. A brother, a U. of Texas linebacker, died at 20 of an accidental overdose of Xanax. So this is hardly the most challenging thing Ehlinger has had to handle.

The history of relief pitchers in the NFL is checkered — the starters being the starters for a reason. Plus, the Colts have other concerns. The offensive line has been in flux, with multiple COVID-19 positive tests or other injuries affecting everyone, including tight end Jack Doyle, who departed last week’s Arizona game limping.

The Colts have shuffled new bodies to the active roster from the practice squad and elsewhere and Reich can barely keep up with which player might be back on which day after doing a five-day stint on the reserve/COVID list. Whoever is at quarterback must have someone to block for him, after all.

Ehlinger has been preparing all season, indeed, much of his life, for such a moment in the spotlight, so he would like to think he is ready. He could be the Colts’ savior.

Also, it does not seem likely Philip Rivers will appear on a white horse. Rivers quarterbacked Indianapolis to the playoffs last season and then retired. There has been buzz the Colts tried to talk him out of retirement as an emergency fill-in.

Given Rivers hasn’t played in a year and is almost surely not in game shape, this seems a fanciful thought.

Reich said he and Rivers talk as friends and he has informed the former All-Star about the Colts’ current situation, but he would not reveal if he asked Rivers to return. “There is nothing to report,” Reich said about that issue.

It is unknown if Wentz was a close-contact casualty positive, or is really sick. It is unknown if he will materialize to suit up Sunday, or be exiled from the clubhouse. It is unknown if Ehlinger will be the hero of the occasion, or will stay on the bench. It is not known if the Colts will have one, three, or five regular offensive lineman in uniform.

The only known quantity in Colts World is that the best bet is giving the ball to Jonathan Taylor 40 times and getting out of the way. Unless he tests positive and can’t come to Lucas Oil Stadium.

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