INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — New Indianapolis Colts coach Shane Steichen was willing to be patient with Anthony Richardson before naming the rookie quarterback his starter.
The wait is almost over.
On Sunday, a little more than four months after Indy selected the former Florida prep star with the draft's fourth overall pick, Richardson will trot onto the field Sunday against Jacksonville as the face of the Colts' future — and present.
“I’m just trying to prepare for the game and make sure I’m on point,” he said Wednesday after spending eight hours on an off day preparing. "Running out of the tunnel and all that, that’s going to come, but me being on point and being ready — that’s all I’m focused on right now.”
It's been a crash course for the 21-year-old rookie who will become the youngest opening day starting quarterback in franchise history and the third-youngest in NFL history.
For the Colts, this is more than just a new season. It's a new era.
This marks the seventh straight season Indy will use a new starting quarterback in Week 1, a streak they're hoping Richardson breaks next September. Steichen will be making key decisions for the first time as a head coach. The Colts even added a new, high-priced kicker in Matt Gay.
And it all starts with a home opener against the defending AFC South champion Jaguars, an old nemesis that eliminated Indy from playoff contention in a shocking 2021 season finale.
Even Jags coach Doug Pederson isn't sure what to expect:
"It’s interesting, because we know (Colts defensive coordinator) Gus Bradley on defense. Second year in that system with those guys and all of that. The offensive side might be a little different or look a little different. Obviously, a young ascending quarterback, that can look a little different. I think you can prepare just by going back and understanding the history of their coaches and where they’ve been and who they’ve coached.”
Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick in the 2021 draft, improved dramatically over the second half of last season and may now be the division's top quarterback. His budding supporting cast includes veteran receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, 1,000-yard rusher Travis Etienne Jr. and new addition Calvin Ridley, who is expected to appear in his first game since Oct. 24, 2021.
The bigger unknown, however, is the 6-foot-4, 244-pound Richardson, who went 6-7 as a college starter.
“When push comes to shove and somebody has the ball in their hands, you just try to get them down,” Jags linebacker Foye Oluokun said. “I know he’s big, I know he’s fast and explosive, it’s just the mentality. As soon as somebody gets the ball in their hands, you've just got to attack them.”
This game marks the first of five the Jags are scheduled to play against rookie quarterbacks in 2023 — two against Richardson, two against Houston’s C.J. Stroud and one vs. Carolina’s Bryce Young in December.
“A lot of times you get a rookie guy, he’s (confused by) looks, maybe bringing some pressure from where it looks like it’s coming (elsewhere),” said Oluokun, one of 11 returning defensive starters.
Jacksonville also plays three games against second-year QBs — Desmond Ridder of Atlanta, Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh and Brock Purdy of San Francisco.
THE OTHER STREAK
Indy also enters this weekend with a nine-game winless streak on opening day. They snapped the eight-game losing streak with last year's tie at Houston, but the Colts still haven't won in Week 1 since beating the Oakland Raiders 21-17 in September 2013.
“I think when you win your first home opener or on the road, I think it gives your team confidence,” Steichen said. “Even if you lose the game, it doesn’t mean you lose confidence. But yeah, obviously you want to win every game and obviously, the first one is a big one.”
Pederson has made Jacksonville’s struggles in Indy one of his weekly talking points. The Jaguars have lost five straight at Lucas Oil Stadium since 2017.
“We didn’t handle the road great last year and we didn’t handle this opponent great on the road last year,” he said. “Quite frankly, they’ve beaten us nine out of the last 10 (in Indy). We’ve got our work cut out for us. The unknown is just, ‘Hey, how are we going to respond to that?’"
With 2021 NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor mired in a contract dispute, still on the physically unable to perform list following offseason ankle surgery, and Taylor's backup, Zack Moss (broken right arm), returning to practice Wednesday, Steichen plans to take a committee approach.
Veteran Deon Jackson and rookie Evan Hull would be the featured running backs if Moss doesn't play. Jake Funk and Jason Huntley are the only other backs on the roster. They're on the practice squad.
“Whoever’s got the hot hand — let them ride a little bit and go with that,” Steichen said. "We’ll rotate those guys in, see where everyone is at and like I said, we’ll ride with the hot hand.”
AP Pro Football Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida, contributed to this report.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl