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Why Colts head coach Shane Steichen is 'super excited' for what Anthony Richardson can do in Year 2

While Anthony Richardson played in only four games as a rookie, he showed head coach Shane Steichen plenty of things to build on as he enters his second season with the Colts. 

ORLANDO – Anthony Richardson can make plays few other humans can, like the deep shot he threw to Alec Pierce while all-universe defensive tackle Aaron Donald wrapped his arms around him back in Week 4.

But while head coach Shane Steichen was discussing what about Richardson's game makes him "super excited" to build on in 2024, he brought up a play that looked entirely easy.

And that's the point.

In the first quarter of the Colts' Week 5 win over the Tennessee Titans, Richardson was behind center for a first-and-10 on the Colts' 30-yard line. Wide receiver Josh Downs went in jet motion from right to left before the snap. At the snap, the Titans didn't have anyone covering him, leaving plenty of green grass ahead of Downs beyond the line of scrimmage.

Richardson saw that open space and threw to Downs, who darted 15 yards for a first down. Instead of robotically going through his progressions and giving Tennessee's defense time to recover, he saw his receiver was open and threw him the ball.

Simple, right? Again: That's the point.

"You could see even when he played this year early on, he had a really good feel where to go with the football," Steichen said Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando. "And it might not be his first read, but it would be a guy on a jet motion, and it's like, I'm going to throw an over — oh my gosh, no one coverage that guy on the jet motion. He popped one against Tennessee early to Downs, and Downs went down the sideline for (15). And I was like, oh, they didn't cover him, he saw it too and was like here, ball.

"That's playing quarterback. He knows that stuff, which is huge, which helps as coaches — like that processing speed of, oh, you guys busted here, ball."

That awareness Richardson showed not only on that play, but through his abbreviated rookie season, is a trait that shouldn't be taken for granted in a quarterback.

"You can have a guy that can go out there and be a robot and be like 'you told me 1, 2, 3, check down,'" Steichen said, "and it's like, I did, but they didn't cover that guy."

Add in those spectacular plays the strong-armed, hyper-athletic Richardson can make, and it's easy to understand Steichen's excitement about what's to come with the 21-year-old quarterback.

There will be ups and downs, of course, and Richardson still has plenty of work to do as he continues to develop as an NFL quarterback. But when that process begins at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center again this spring during the offseason program and OTAs, Steichen sees Richardson as possessing a foundation not just as a playmaker, but as a quarterback.

"I like where he's at," Steichen said. "He's progressing really, really well. He's just getting better and better. Looking forward to that spring with him."

Steichen wouldn't set a firm expectation that Richardson would be cleared to participate in OTAs, which will take place in May and early June, but said the 2023 No. 4 overall pick "should be" good to go. Notably, when Richardson does get back on the field, he'll have a grasp on the terminology of the Colts' offense – something he had to quickly learn last year – and can hone in on the details of plays. 

"Getting in the huddle is big," Steichen said. "You've heard the same words, you've heard the same play calls or a version of them. So I think that process is going to speed up."

Another focus for Richardson will be protecting himself in an effort to avoid the injuries he sustained in 2023, up to and including his season-ending shoulder injury. Balancing the need for Richardson to be healthy will be important, but the Colts don't want him to lose his playmaking streak in the process either. 

"There will always be a fine line there," Steichen said. "Like, we need to go make plays. And sometimes making plays might be him running the football. Sometimes him making plays might be in the pocket. Injuries happen but obviously we don't want them to happen to that guy. So we'll work through those things, consciously working through those things, and we'll go from there."

The Colts are taking a prudent approach to Richardson's recovery, emphasizing he doesn't have to be ahead of schedule while following the advice of doctors and trainers as he methodically works his way back. But when that moment does come when Richardson is cleared to get back on the practice field, it'll be an important moment for both the player and the team in 2024. 

"I think everything happens for a reason, and I think what happened to him is gonna make him stronger," Steichen said. "I know he's super fired and ready to roll for this spring practice and training camp and the season."

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