INDIANAPOLIS – Jacob Eason grew up in Seattle wearing a Peyton Manning jersey and watching the Indianapolis Colts play prime-time games at his father’s fire station.
So when his childhood favorite franchise picked him in the fourth round of April’s NFL draft, it took some of the sting out of an unexpected fall.
By the time the 22-year-old quarterback finally stepped into the Colts’ training facility in late July, it was a dream come true.
“I was pretty fired up to be selected by these guys, and when I got into the facility it was a pretty cool experience for me,” Eason said. “Now that I am here, it’s kind of settled in a little bit, and it’s back to doing the best I can to stay here. It’s a really cool opportunity for me, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
Monday was another big day in Eason’s fledgling professional career.
NFL preseason games are yet another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. The Colts were scheduled to host the Washington Football Team on “Monday Night Football” this week – allowing Eason to be on the other side of the TV screen in his dad’s old fire station – but instead the team practiced for the first time in full uniform at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Eason made the most of his limited time on the big stage.
He was 4-of-8 passing, throwing just two fewer attempts than he had in the six previous training camp practices open to media. His numbers could have been better, but undrafted rookie running back DeMichael Harris failed to complete the process after fully extending for an attempted reception on a deep pass over the middle and another high throw bounced off an intended receiver’s hands.
But there were signs of the vast potential Indianapolis sees in the former Washington and Georgia star. He threw a back-shoulder pass to wide receiver Dezmon Patmon that had such velocity it might have stuck between the rookie’s ribs. Another bullet pass got to receiver Reece Fountain so quickly it’s questionable whether the nearby defender even saw the football blur past.
“I thought Jacob looked good,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said after the practice that was designed to mimic a game day. “He made some good throws to the outside. He did a nice job. He handled himself well, and it was a good day for Jacob.”
There’s never been any question about Eason’s arm strength.
He appears to throw the ball hard enough it might penetrate the brick walls surrounding his new home stadium. And he has the kind of confidence he might attempt to do just that if he somehow saw an Indianapolis receiver standing on the other side of one.
His evaluation process as a pro goes far beyond his arm talent.
Eason’s draft-day slide reportedly was due to questions some scouts harbored about his work ethic and maturity. Immediately after being selected by the Colts, the quarterback took ownership of the latter charge — admitting, like many 18- and 19-year-olds, he had some growing up to do when he first got to college.
On the work ethic charge, Eason simply resolved to do everything in his power to prove the whispers false.
By all reports from his time in Indianapolis, he’s well on his way.
Eason has regularly remained on the field after practice to get extra work in with the wide receivers, and he’s taking his responsibilities off the field just as seriously.
Reich and his staff have worked to get Eason and Chad Kelly — competing for the third and final quarterback spot — extra work in walk-throughs each day, and the pair is being judged as much by how they go about the process of their jobs as they are on the execution.
“Where his eyes are going, is he making the right protection call?” Reich said, beginning a partial list of the items on the quarterback’s checklist. “Are we making the right run checks? Are we able to identify what the defense is doing? Talk him through that stuff.
“And that’s where these days in the NFL, with limited roster size, you have to be able to maximize everything you can get out of a walk-through.”
This is expected to be a redshirt season for Eason.
If he does anything more than wear a baseball cap and shout encouragement from the sideline, something probably has gone extraordinarily wrong. This is Philip Rivers’ team, and Jacoby Brissett is well-positioned to take his place if the need arises.
Eason is just trying to take advantage of all the knowledge surrounding him and accelerate his learning curve.
For now, that’s competition enough.
“I’m kind of taking it a day at a time trying to get better, stay consistent day in and day out and work on my self-progress,” Eason said last week. “The speed of the game and all of that stuff is definitely faster than what I am used to, but I’m slowly improving on that.”