WESTFIELD, Ind. – The Colts re-convened Monday for their final week at Grand Park, one which will conclude by welcoming the Chicago Bears to Westfield for joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday.
And those two joint practices will be important tests for rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson for one big reason.
No one else will have access to the film of them.
Preseason games are generally, from a schematic standpoint, intentionally bland. No coach is going to put on tape in August an exotic blitz package or intricate route concept they might want to use in January. And too, the full-speed contact of games allows coaches to test where players are at physically – meaning you'll see different calls on both offense and defense than you'd usually see in the regular season.
The Colts' defense, for example, played quite a few "bear" fronts (five defensive linemen, with the guards and center covered up) against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday; they also played a decent amount of man coverage. Those decisions, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said, were made to provide physical tests for the team's defensive linemen and cornerbacks.
"It was more to put our players into position to see what they can do in one-on-one situations," Bradley said.
Joint practices, though, are ideal times to test things schematically against an opponent – which adds a different wrinkle than testing it against teammates that you've practiced with for the last few weeks.
And: No one else will see the film. Scheme away.
"If the video of the joint practices were put up right next to the video of the preseason game," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said, "the schematic, interestingness might be a little – you would be staring at the joint practice a little more than the preseason game."
Why this matters for Richardson, then, is he'll be exposed to defenses on Wednesday and Thursday than he will be in any of the Colts' three preseason games. Bradley's defense has tested Richardson, but the way Bears head coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams design fronts, blitzes and coverages will be different. And next week, the schematic wrinkles Richardson will face from Sean Desai's Philadelphia Eagles defense in a joint practice will be different, too.
"Maybe our defense plays Cover-3 like so and so, but this new (Bears) defense we're about to play plays Cover-3 a little bit different," Cooter said. "That happens with every single different coverage. How do we respond to that? What kind of blitz packages do they have? How do we handle that? Shoot, we're going to show up, we're going to practicing against the Bears, all of a sudden you're going to look up and it's going to be third-and-eight. What's their third down package look like? We've got to study that real quick.
"To go through that process, to get an extra sort of round of learning an opponent in the joint practice situation – it has been valuable over the years for guys I've been around."
So over those three joint practices, Richardson's ability to read NFL defenses will be tested. Specifically, the back-to-back joint practices with the Bears represent a major opportunity for growth. And it'll be a different sort of opportunity than the ones Richardson will get in preseason games.
"Your opening practice, something will surprise you, something will change from what you thought and then you show back up the next day and see if you fixed that problem or not," Cooter said. "I think that is a real factor that shows up."