When Anthony Richardson returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center following season-ending shoulder surgery this fall, he walked into a tricky situation to navigate.
Any growth that would happen for the young Colts quarterback would have to happen behind the scenes. But behind the scenes, the Colts' focus was on how to beat their upcoming opponent. And while the Colts would be Richardson's team again in 2024, in 2023, it was now Gardner Minshew II's team.
By all accounts, Richardson – who's still only 21 years old – gracefully handled that dynamic.
"He did a good job of respecting that and understanding that," quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. "He was very encouraging and did a good job of supporting Gardner and being happy for him, but also continuing to be himself."
Not only did Richardson have to take a back seat to Minshew, but he had to handle watching his first-year peers play in Houston and Charlotte.
"Especially being such a young guy and watching CJ (Stroud) and Bryce (Young) play, people don't want to talk about it, but that's taxing on your mental," Pittman said. "And watching them play well and just knowing that he wants to be out there too. And he feels that pressure and everything. He's just ready to play, he's working hard. I would expect his best ball coming soon.
"Soon as in next year."
Richardson's teammates echoed Pittman's words there because they saw the effort and commitment he put into both his rehab process and his away-from-the-field development. Ehlinger noticed Richardson's personality come out more and more as he grew comfortable in the Colts' facility. He was "locked in," Ehlinger said, during practices and frequently asked questions about the gameplan and how to attack opposing defenses. Richardson diligently took notes in meetings.
And around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, his teammates saw a player not only meticulously attack his rehab from shoulder surgery, but a player who, as running back Jonathan Taylor said, was "eager to learn."
"He's always walking around with an iPad in his hand or he's walking right next to coach and he's trying to learn, he wants to learn," Taylor said. "So anytime you got someone talented like that but also that hunger to learn, guys gotta watch out. Because those are the ones you gotta watch out for."
Head coach Shane Steichen said he had "good meetings" with Richardson throughout the season, and saw the 2023 No. 4 overall pick shift his mindset to getting the most out of learning through watching instead of learning through playing.
"Just talking with him individually going through different stuff – just football 101 stuff (like) coverages and fronts and going through what do we like versus this look and all that," Steichen said. "He was soaking it in, and he was wired in all year obviously doing his rehab. Looking forward to his future next year."
The Colts' encouragement about the work Richardson put in behind the scenes, too, is boosted by what he did when he did play as a rookie. The Colts saw not only Richardson's natural talent, but his poise, football IQ and feel for playing quarterback shine through.
"I thought when he played he was explosive and he was electric," Steichen said in October. "He gives us an opportunity every time he steps on the field to win football games. Just his big-play ability, throwing the ball down the field – the runs that he had, the four touchdown runs in the limited time he played. But there is tremendous opportunity for him going forward and this franchise."
So as the Colts shift their focus toward building for 2024 with Richardson back in the mix, they'll do so believing in the gains their 21-year-old quarterback made both before and after his season-ending injury.
"For a guy so young to go ride the roller coaster like he has highs and lows, to see how he just stuck with it – I feel really good about Anthony's future, man," Minshew said. "He's gonna be really good. The way he prepares, the way he sees things, man I can see just how competitive he was even when he was out. Like that game a couple nights ago, man he was fired up, he was mad. He wanted to win. Like, I think those are all things that are gonna serve him really well and serve this team really well."