WESTFIELD, Ind. – Here's one way to look at the Colts' quarterback competition over the next month: Training camp practices are quizzes, and preseason games are tests. By late August, scores from those exams will be compiled and weighed, and the Colts' brain trust will make a decision on their Week 1 starting quarterback.
So if you're wondering on July 25 if it'll be Anthony Richardson, Gardner Minshew or Sam Ehlinger – well, they all have incomplete grades right now.
But one thing general manager Chris Ballard knows on the eve of training camp is those three players have the right competitive juice for the next few weeks.
Each of them possesses a mindset that, ultimately, should make the Colts a better team in 2023.
"You wouldn't want it any other way," Ballard said. "How do you get better — to me, that's how you grow. That's how you win. You got real competition with people competing and guys performing, other guys are able to step up and take their game to another level. And that's how you grow and get better."
Minshew, during OTAs and minicamp this spring, proved himself to be a both-things-can-be-true player: He envisions himself as the Colts' QB1 and will fiercely compete to earn that role, but also will help Richardson with the understanding that the success of whoever is the team's starting quarterback is paramount. Ehlinger, too, carries the same mindset.
"Every time Gardner has been asked to play, he's played really good football," Ballard said. "Here's the things I really like about Minshew — he's competitive, and he sees himself as the guy. But he's also a great teammate, and he's going to do what's best for the team. But he's going to compete. So is Sam — they're going to compete to play."
Both Minshew (24 NFL starts) and Ehlinger (three starts) will bring in-game experience to the Colts' quarterback competition, while Richardson has yet to participate in a padded NFL practice, let alone a game. The 2023 No. 4 overall pick – who signed his rookie contract Tuesday – will go through a steady progression of non-padded practices to padded practices to games over the next month, consistently gaining valuable reps that'll help the Colts determine if he's ready for the regular season.
"We can go through camp and get every rep we can," Ballard said. "But until you're in a game and you're actually getting those live bullet reps, it's hard to really grow and get better. And they have to be ready to handle (things), because there's going to be some successes but there's going to be some failure too along the way. You want him to be ready to handle enough of the offense where we can give them enough tools to where they can perform and have success. You want to be able to set him up to have success early, not just all downhill."
Richardson, to his credit, has impressed the Colts with his even-keeled, stable psyche and hardworking demeanor. And Ballard is confident not only in Richardson's attitude but in the coaching structure around him – head coach Shane Steichen, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and quarterbacks coach Cam Turner.
But it'll all come down to how Richardson handles the peaks and valleys of training camp, the full-speed, full-contact snaps he gets in preseason games and everything else that comes with being an NFL quarterback trying to earn his first career start.
"He's a great kid," Ballard said. "But he's young, there's going to be some up and down moments in camp, there's gonna be some up and down moments when he eventually plays. But that's part of the process of growing and learning and playing any position in this league."
So if you're looking for an answer to the question of when Richardson will play, and who the Colts' starting quarterback against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 10 will be, just wait. The Colts haven't even handed out the quizzes and tests yet.
"I'll lean heavily on our coaching staff on what they think and what they think he can handle and what he's ready for," Ballard said. "And then eventually he'll play. But until he's ready, we'll make that determination. And when the coaching staff thinks he's ready to go then we'll play him."