WESTFIELD, Ind. – To understand how the Colts got here – naming Anthony Richardson as the team's starting quarterback for the 2023 season on Tuesday – let's re-wind to April.
About a half-hour after selecting Anthony Richardson with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, head coach Shane Steichen and general manager Chris Ballard sat down for a press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. Two things they said that night stand out:
Steichen: "I think the development of players comes with more experience. 13 starts, I think when you play more, that's how you develop. You know what I mean? So, with him playing and his experience as a player and getting more reps, practice reps, game reps, I think that's how you develop."
Ballard: "He's got to come in and earn his way, like every player we bring in."
The Colts always hoped this would be the outcome. You don't draft a player fourth overall and plan for him to hold a clipboard.
But Richardson had to earn it. He wasn't going to walk into training camp as the Colts' QB1. He had to gain the trust of his coaches and teammates while competing with veteran Gardner Minshew.
So throughout camp, he had to show he put in the work, that he could handle the highs and lows of it all, that he could make strides and that his natural talent was worthy of being an NFL starting quarterback.
"I don't want to come in here and make it seem like everything should be handed to me — because it definitely shouldn't," Richardson said. "I have to work for everything."
The Colts were drawn to Richardson in the pre-draft process not only because of his eye-popping talent, but because of his mentality. Richardson, for a guy who turned 21 in May, has a mature-beyond-his-years capacity for possessing both humility and confidence.
As in: He knows there's a lot he doesn't know, but that doesn't mean he isn't confident in his own ability.
"(He's) asking a lot of questions in meetings in person, after the meetings, staying back asking questions, walking through the halls asking questions, as we're walking down to the team meetings," quarterbacks coach Cam Turner said. "And then, you know, text, calls. He has good ones too. It's not just generic questions. He has good ones."
During the month-and-a-half break between minicamp and training camp, Richardson poured his energy into learning the Colts' offense. Teammates noticed – even if Richardson, sometimes, didn't notice them.
"He's always studying his playbook," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "I mean, I could barely get him to look up at me sometimes. I'm like, 'hey, Ant,' and he's down like this looking at his playbook. 'I'm like, Anthony!'"
And when Richardson began practicing during training camp, his teammates could feel the impact of all the studying he did and all the questions he asked before and after arriving at Grand Park.
"His work ethic and his poise in the huddle for a rookie has impressed me a lot," left guard Quenton Nelson said. "The growth I've seen from OTAs until now – you can tell that in the offseason time that he was at home, he was studying, working on calling the plays in the huddle and stuff."
Few players are better than offensive linemen at sussing out guys who aren't prepared enough. And Nelson, too, isn't the only member of the Colts' O-line who's felt the impact of Richardson's work ethic.
"I know if you talk to some of the offensive linemen, he's got some confidence in the huddle," assistant general manager Ed Dodds said. "And not like, 'Hey, I'm this young first round pick. I've got all the answers.' Not that, it's not too big for him. He's comfortable in there."
This all matters not only for Richardson's readiness to command the Colts' offense during the regular season, but also for the challenges that inevitably will face a rookie quarterback. So when Richardson makes a mistake, his teammates will know: It wasn't because he didn't put as much work as they did.
"He's always working and he just has a great work ethic," Pittman said. "I just can't see him not being successful, the work he puts in."
There's another part to that Ballard quote at the start of the article.
"Let's not expect him to be Superman from day one," Ballard said. "I think history has shown there's not many of them that are Superman from day one. Some of them it takes two, three years for them to become a really good player. ... We've got to let these guys develop and play. They're going to have some struggles and then they've got to work through the struggles and eventually, their talent, the more they play, their talent will come to life."
Over the last 25 seasons, 70 quarterbacks have started at least half a season as rookies. Of those 70, only three have had passer ratings over 100; the two Colts quarterbacks in that group had passer ratings of 71.2 (Peyton Manning) and 76.5 (Andrew Luck).
"All quarterbacks have adversity and failure," Minshew said. "It really doesn't matter how good you are at times, that's going to happen. It's one of the most important things a quarterback can have. I think he does – I think he has the right stuff. I think mentally he's beyond his years and I'm excited to see him get out there."
Richardson's even-keel demeanor has already helped him navigate the highs and lows of these nascent stages of his development. In his preseason debut against the Buffalo Bills, Richardson threw an interception on the fifth play of his first drive as a pro quarterback. It didn't snowball into anything more; by his third drive, he led a lengthy march down the field at Highmark Stadium complete with explosive plays and key first down conversions.
"What I really liked was the poise he had, the command he had," Steichen said. "You know, you throw an early interception, how is he going to respond to that? I thought he responded tremendously."
But it's not just about Richardson has responded to mistakes or bad days. His teammates have appreciated how he's responded to big plays and good days just as much.
"He's stone cold 24/7," Pittman said. "He's the same guy. ... He doesn't get too high and he doesn't get too low. He just kind of stays steady. He's a next play guy — 'so what, now what.' Whether it's good, whether it's bad."
Being a starting quarterback in the NFL – especially one drafted in the top 10 – means, outside the walls of the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, every game will be a moratorium on your progress. Hot-take-oriented programming will anoint you one week and write you off as a bust the next. Tuning all that out, and keeping a level head about your own progress, matters for a quarterback.
"We all know, especially when you draft one high, he's automatically stamped as the automatic savior before he's even played a down," Ballard said. "Him and I have had long talks about being able to handle the highs and lows of the position because you have to.
"You all know how it is. Even the established ones that will have down moments – all of a sudden the world says they're done. It's a week-to-week league. That's just what our league is. So, how you perform from week to week is pretty much what people are going to write and you've got to be able to handle that. You've got to be able to handle the good and the bad, and take both in stride."
Early in camp, Richardson threw a go ball to wide receiver Alec Pierce. It tipped off the speedy wideout's fingers for an incompletion.
When the ball left Richardson's hand, the trajectory of the pass led Pierce to think it was intended for his back shoulder – that's how low it was. Usually, a go ball has more loft on it. But Richardson's remarkable arm strength allowed him to rip a deep ball on a line usually reserved for a back shoulder throw.
A week later when an opportunity presented itself in practice, Richardson and Pierce linked up for a completion on a back shoulder throw.
"We've been trying to work that for the past two or three weeks now," Richardson said. "Just trying to get used to his speed and the way he likes the ball coming down."
With Richardson now exclusively practicing and playing with the first-team offense, he'll have an extensive runway – three joint practices and another week of practice at the Colts' facility before preparation begins for the season opener – to continue building trust and connections with his teammates.
"We need more reps," Steichen said. "Keep getting him more reps, keep creating that chemistry with the ones. The more reps he gets, the more he sees. The more looks he sees, he's going to be better for it."
And as offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter put it: "You can't get enough of that work."
During a seven-on-seven period in his second training camp practice, Richardson rolled to his left and cooly uncorked 60-yard heave to Pierce, who caught the pass in one of the most spectacular plays of training camp.
"He'll just drop back and flick his wrist and the ball goes 80 yards," Pittman said. "It's insane."
Richardson's natural talent has been on display for anyone who's come up to Grand Park, and will be for anyone who heads to Lucas Oil Stadium this fall. The 6-foot-4, 250-ish pound Richardson has a strong arm and quick release; he's fast, he's physical and he's difficult to tackle.
"I'm blessed. Everybody knows that I continue to preach about it and me being blessed with everything God has blessed me with," Richardson said. "Despite all that, you've got to work."
All those traits helped Richardson become the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. But as the Colts scouted him, they noticed something else – something which has translated on the field this summer.
Richardson's poise and mobility in the pocket.
This isn't about Richardson taking off and scrambling. It's his ability to feel the pass rush and – like he's vibing to DJ Casper – slide to the left or slide to the right. He'll subtly step up in the pocket and deliver an on-target ball, like he did on Saturday to Pierce against the Buffalo Bills, instead of taking a sack. And it's not something to take for granted in a quarterback.
"That's that natural instinct that he has that some others don't," Dodds said.
Richardson didn't earn the Colts' QB1 job through talent alone. He had to compete and he had to show growth during training camp. And he still has a ways to go – the Colts anointed him their starting quarterback for the 2023 season, but that's it.
Nobody remembers you for being Year 1 starting quarterback. The work is just beginning.
"I want to be great, and I want to be remembered," Richardson said. "I don't want to just be one of those guys like, 'Okay, he was in the league.' I want my legacy to be remembered forever. I'm working. Just trying to work forever and build championships with this team and this organization."