Colts encouraging rookie QB Anthony Richardson to tap into creativity — and they’re not stopping there

WESTFIELD, Ind. — Anthony Richardson is learning his progressions.

If the first read in his Indianapolis Colts offense isn’t open, it’s time to advance to the second read. If the second read isn’t open? The Colts are coaching the fourth overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft on his third, fourth and fifth progressions.

As training camp began this week, the team is also coaching him on when to throw all of that out of the window. Because a quarterback with Richardson’s playmaking potential shouldn’t always be boxed in, the organization reasons. Just because a play starts in the pocket doesn’t mean it needs to end there.

“At a certain point, you can’t be so structured that you’re rigid and you take away some of these guys’ creativity,” Colts offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. “Sometimes, if [read] 2 is not there, it might be time for Anthony to create a little bit.”

The Colts are willing to shoulder the risk to chase the reward. They signaled that when selecting Richardson with the fourth pick.

“What we saw with Anthony was the upside of what we thought he can be going forward,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard told Yahoo Sports. “Of course, you wish he started 30 games in college. He didn’t. But the upside of the kid, we just thought: ‘OK, if we’re going to bet on one, let’s bet on that one that we think we can really hit a home run with.’”

There’s more than one way to hit that home run.

Indianapolis Colts rookie QB Anthony Richardson is learning the ropes of an NFL offense, but coaches are encouraging him to use his creativity and athleticism. (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Indianapolis Colts rookie QB Anthony Richardson is learning the ropes of an NFL offense, but coaches are encouraging him to use his creativity and athleticism. (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The next steps to Anthony Richardson’s success

Look no further than head coach Shane Steichen’s most recent stop to understand: mobile quarterbacks can take their teams to great heights, like, the Super Bowl. Mobile quarterbacks can spark offensive diversity. And mobile quarterbacks can develop as passers.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts did each of those with Steichen as his offensive coordinator. Steichen and his staff will now explore Richardson’s dual-threat potential.

Richardson arrives in the NFL with limited college experience, starting consistently at Florida only in 2022. During that campaign, Richardson passed for 2,549 yards with 17 touchdowns to nine interceptions in 12 games. His accuracy wavered, resulting in just a 53.8% completion rate. And yet, Richardson’s production stretched beyond the air as he rushed for 654 yards and nine scores. Strength and power fueled much of that production, he admits. Now, he aims to hone footwork, timing and the synchrony of his upper and lower bodies to play more naturally. He knows he can complete the deep ball. That alone is not the goal.

“Instead of being a perfect passer,” Richardson explains, “be a natural thrower and get the ball to the receivers.”

He points to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and New York’s Aaron Rodgers as examples of natural throwers. Each escapes the pocket routinely, extends plays and incorporates athleticism heavily into their game. But each also uses that combination primarily to power passing plays, not rushing plays. League wisdom suggests that’s a more sustainable route to extending a quarterback’s career.

Colts quarterbacks coach Cam Turner says threads of that natural throwing ability dot Richardson’s collegiate tape. The creativity the Colts seek isn’t only about taking off when a pocket starts to collapse.

“He’s throwing guys open, he’s getting downfield and kind of gets creative throwing the football, which is awesome and it creates big plays,” Turner told Yahoo Sports. “That’s what we love about him.”

Colts are buzzing even as Richardson’s timeline remains unclear

Colts leadership is cautious even in their optimism. Do they believe Richardson can become a great NFL quarterback? Absolutely. Do they think he’s there already, or that he’ll have arrived at greatness by Week 1 of his rookie season? That’s unrealistic.

“He’s got work to do, but he’s very talented and we’re willing to live through the bumps,” Ballard told Yahoo Sports. “I think we’ll see a lot of good, too.”

The Colts are comfortable living with some ambiguity as they determine not only how quickly Richardson progresses but also what form that progress takes. Instincts and athleticism will be valued, especially early on as playbook familiarity builds play by play. Cooter knows he could easily give Richardson 25 different notes per pass concept installation but also that the information may hit more effectively if that knowledge is spread over time. Install the plays with the most important notes; then, as situational football arises, integrate the teaching points that follow.

Strategic teaching doesn’t mean simplifying the playbook.

“There’s a lot he can do on the football field,” Cooter said. “There’s not a lot of plays we can’t draw up that we think we’ve got a shot to execute.”

That excites the Colts’ front office, Richardson’s coaches and also his teammates. Steichen has not yet announced whether Richardson will start immediately, as veteran Gardner Minshew remains a reliable option who already knows the system from his time with Steichen in Philadelphia. There’s an easy case for giving Richardson time to learn, and yet: Colts team owner Jim Irsay is not a historically patient franchise steward. Steichen talked this week about the benefit of throwing quarterbacks in quickly. Multiple leaders touted what lessons can emerge only from live reps.

So the position groups around Richardson are buzzing about the “physical specimen” and “young stallion” they drafted, with wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne urging his group to help unleash the potential of a raw but high-ceiling prospect.

“It’s like, damn — we could be part of unlocking the other half that we haven’t seen,” Wayne said.

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