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Why Shane Steichen gives Colts confidence in search for long-term solution at quarterback

Steichen has developed and called offenses for quarterbacks with different skillsets over his time as an offensive coordinator. 

If the Colts snag a quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, or if they take someone they feel is a good fit later in the draft, they'll do so believing that player has certain baseline traits.

For head coach Shane Steichen, one of those will be an obsession with the process of being a quarterback. But whatever those other need-to-have traits are, if the Colts identify someone who possesses them and then takes that quarterback in the NFL Draft, they'll have to put that player in a position to succeed.

"You want to accent the strengths of your quarterback," Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay said. "And some quarterbacks have different strengths on how they go about winning games."

Beyond the players the Colts have on offense – among them a two-time thousand-yard receiver, a former rushing leader and a three-time All-Pro offensive lineman – they have a head coach with a proven ability to build an offense around the skillset of his quarterback.

Steichen's done that with a late-stage pure pocket passer (Philip Rivers), a rocket-armed, super-talented rookie (Justin Herbert) and an explosive, dynamic young playmaker (Jalen Hurts). For Herbert and Hurts, both players had high performance floors because of the way Steichen helped build the Chargers and Eagles offenses early in their careers, respectively.

An emphasis for Herbert from Steichen was to lean on his running back in the passing game. As he learned how to process NFL defenses for the first time, Herbert led the NFL in completions to running backs (126) as a rookie in 2020. He finished that season with a passer rating of 98.3, which still stands as a career high.

For Hurts, Steichen and the Eagles pivoted away from a pass-heavy offense in the first half of 2021, decreasing his attempts per game from 35 (Weeks 1-7) to 24 (Weeks 8-17). Hurts led quarterbacks in rushing attempts (139), rushing yards (784) and rushing touchdowns (10) in 2021; that the Eagles shifted their offensive focus mid-season highlighted Steichen's flexibility as a coach in working closely with first-year head coach Nick Sirianni to tailor their offense to their quarterback's strengths.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Steichen said. "You gotta develop your players and really get to know them and go through that process in OTAs and training camp. And then you get into the season and really find out who you are through that process, and really putting your guys in position to make plays is the biggest thing we gotta do as coaches."

In 2022, the Eagles opened up their passing attack for Hurts, who averaged 8.0 yards per attempt and had a 101.5 passer rating in his second full year as a starter. Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans had to call plays as the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator in the NFC Championship against Steichen's Eagles offense and came away impressed with the coach whose offense he'll now have to face twice a year in the AFC South.

"With Shane and the offense they ran there in Philly, first and foremost the did a really good job of running the ball," Ryans said. "So any good offensive coordinator, if you can run the ball, then you can set up your RPO game, you can take shots down the field but it all starts with the run game, and that's what they did in Philly starting with the offensive line, they really controlled the line of scrimmage. And when you can control the line of scrimmage and run the ball that way, it opens up your playbook. So that's what I know Shane will try to establish there in Indy as well, is establishing the run game."

And by the time the Eagles reached Super Bowl LVII, Hurts was playing at an incredibly high level – with Steichen calling the plays. Hurts in the Super Bowl completed 27 of 38 passes for 304 yards with a touchdown, and rushed 15 times for 70 yards with three touchdowns.

"He's sharp," Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said of Steichen. "You could tell that he had (Hurts) tuned up and ready to go."

Add in the work Steichen did with Rivers while the two were with the Chargers, and Steichen has experience developing offenses for veterans and rookies, and for three quarterbacks with different skillsets.

So as the Colts look for a long-term solution at quarterback, they can do so without needing to find one specific type of quarterback for Steichen to coach.

"He's used each one of them in a different way, which does open up all the quarterbacks to you now," general manager Chris Ballard said, "which is good."

And they can move forward believing in Steichen's ability to tailor an offense to the quarterbacks already on their roster, including Gardner Minshew and Sam Ehlinger. So the Colts can evaluate if there's a long-term quarterback solution available to them with the confidence Steichen is the right coach for that guy.

Whoever that guy is.

"I have a lot of faith in Shane," Ballard said. "Just the little time we've been together, whatever the quarterback can do, he's going to put him in position to be successful."

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