There are a lot of new factors for National Football League coaches to consider these days. How do they best utilize the three game preseason schedule before embarking on the extended 17 game regular season? Then there is Covid, and what teams the policies put in by the league may upset an otherwise playoff bound team.
If everything was right with the world, the Indianapolis Colts would utilize all three games to familiarize their new quarterback with his new team. But, the same thing that happened to Carson Wentz in Philadelphia is already hampering his progress with Indianapolis.
In his second season in the league, Wentz appeared on his way to an MVP Award before a late season injury sidelined him and opened the door for some Nick Foles magic. Foles replaced Wentz at quarterback and ended the campaign as the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player after leading the Eagles to their only Super Bowl era championship.
When Wentz does return, he may or may not have the protection from the Colts best offensive lineman, Quenton Nelson. The All Pro is out with a foot injury similar to the one that has sidelined Wentz.
The Colts have a long history of solid quarterback play, most notably by two of the greatest to ever work behind center, Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning. Last year, another possible future Hall of Fame member spent one season as a member of the Colts, Philip Rivers. The longtime San Diego Charger joined the Colts in an attempt to compliment the team’s solid defense and lead Indianapolis to a Super Bowl win.
Rivers was one and done, and Indianapolis suddenly had an opening for a competent quarterback. Wentz appeared to be a bargain in the trading market due to his history of injuries. Indianapolis took a shot, and so far it hasn’t paid off.
Without Wentz, the Colts starting quarterback roll has fallen to second-year signal caller Jacob Eason. The Colts also acquired veteran Brett Hundley and drafted Sam Ehlinger. That list would make all the more reason why the Colts would like to see Wentz back on the field after rehabilitating the foot that recently required surgery.
Today, Indianapolis hosts the Carolina Panthers.
In his first year as head coach of the Panthers Matt Rhule led Carolina to five wins, and that may be about as much as his talent dictates again this season. Second seasons are often difficult for first time NFL head coaches, a version of a sophomore slump.
If the Panthers do breakout this year it will have to be based on Carolina succeeding where the New York Jets couldn’t, with quarterback San Darnold. Three years ago Darnold was considered a prospect that many had ranked above Baker Mayfield, who was selected before him in the draft and led the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs last season.
The Jets jettisoned Darnold out of town to make room for the player they took with the second overall pick in this year's draft, Zach Wilson.
Sometimes, and I think this time, a change in scenery totally shifts a player's performance. Wilson has great promise to excel in New York, and his arrival there might just hand Darnold a home in Carolina where his extraordinary skills can be capitalized.
The Colts could be an elite team based on defense alone, and the Panthers may actually come together to gather more wins than Rhule compiled last season if, and this is a big if, Darnold finds a home in which he can thrive.