Colts counting on Richardson to lead them


The Indianapolis Colts made their bet on the 2023 season in the spring when they drafted University of Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.

They doubled down in the blackjack game over the summer when new coach Shane Steichen announced the young and inexperienced rookie would become the club’s starting QB when the regular season begins Sept. 10 versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This represents a youth movement for the Colts, a whole new approach to starting over after several years of high hopes while counting on a string of established, veteran quarterbacks who starred elsewhere but seemed to be the missing piece ready to carry Indianapolis into the playoffs and perhaps onward to a Super Bowl.

In late August 2019 (seems longer ago), Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement from football, stunning the Colts, leaving the franchise off-balance trying to introduce a new quarterback to the offense.

Backup Jacoby Brissett inherited the job, the most critical in the sport. The second-stringer handled the responsibility pretty well, completing 60.9% of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards and throwing 18 touchdowns. But the Colts administration did not view him as a long-term answer.

For 2020, the Colts hired aging star Philip Rivers, paying him $25 million to extend his previous San Diego Chargers career. Rivers led the Colts to an 11-5 record and the playoffs.

Rivers then retired, but the Colts obtained Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles for 2021. That didn’t go so well, and in 2022, fondly recalling the positive experience with Rivers, they signed veteran Matt Ryan.

A year ago, the Colts were perceived as a likely playoff team, and Ryan was the man to lead them into the postseason. But Ryan couldn’t adjust. Coach Frank Reich was fired. And the team fell apart with some of its worst showings in history.

The Colts went from no Luck to Brissett to Rivers to Wentz to Ryan to a 4-12-1 nowhere season.

Leading us to Richardson, the fourth player chosen in the NFL draft. A prototype-sized quarterback at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Richardson is just 21. With only one full season as a starter for the Gators, the Colts drafted potential.

Richardson may be a talented passer and runner, but his learning curve in the NFL is bound to be significant. When Hall of Famer Peyton Manning broke in as a rookie for the Colts in 1998, he threw a league-leading 28 interceptions. And Manning had far more college playing time at Tennessee.

Manning was asked what he thought of Richardson and what can be expected.

“By no means would I think they’re doing this for any other reason than he has earned the job,” Manning said, “and they can build the offense around him even though he’s young.”

Richardson started the team’s preseason opening game ahead of Gardner Minshew and holdover Sam Ehlinger, the other two QBs on the roster.

Steichen said he has liked Richardson’s poise and command leading the offense.

Richardson’s demeanor has been appealing, and when he finally put on a Colts uniform under game conditions against the Buffalo Bills, he enjoyed himself.

“It was fun, just playing football again,” Richardson said. “That was fun, getting back in the groove. I was excited the whole way. Even turning the ball over, despite that, I still feel good because I was out there competing with my teammates. Brand-new team. Brand-new coaching staff. Brand-new environment.”

Richardson took a nice moment for himself pregame in Buffalo. Spontaneously, after warming up a bit, he walked out into the empty stadium before fans entered just to soak up the atmosphere for the setting for his first pro game.

“I’ve never done that before,” he said of inspecting an opponent’s stadium. The idea just came to him and he said, “Let me just go look at how the field looks, and it just hit me, like, ‘You’re actually here. You‘ve got to enjoy it.’” Richardson walked about 10 laps around the field and thought, “I finally made it on the big stage.”

Richardson made it this far, drafted out of college by an NFL team, finding a spot on a professional team’s roster. Now, he will be asked to light up the big stage.

Lew Freedman is a reporter for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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