Nov. 16—INDIANAPOLIS — Despite the fact he's been sidelined for the last six weeks — and will remain on injured reserve for the balance of the season — there's still no bigger story surrounding the Indianapolis Colts than rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson.
His debut season did not play out the way anyone involved with the organization would have scripted it, but there were plenty of flashes of the 21-year-old's potential in the four games in which he appeared.
Speaking on the Colts' official podcast this week, general manager Chris Ballard expressed the franchise's optimism for Richardson's future despite the rash of first-year injuries.
"There's no doubt things he has to work on, protecting himself being one," Ballard told team reporters JJ Stankevitz and Larra Overton on the podcast available at Colts.com. "He'll learn that. I think all young quarterbacks have to learn that, that you don't have to take the unnecessary shots in this league that you don't have to take.
"It's OK to slide. It's OK to step out of bounds. I think those are things he'll learn as he plays. But (we're) really encouraged about the small glimpse we got of him."
Ballard admitted Richardson even surpassed his own expectations.
There were plenty of questions surrounding the quarterback coming out of the University of Florida. The primary concern centered around the fact he made just 13 starts before declaring for the NFL Draft.
Indianapolis conceded experience was the main area in which Richardson was lacking, and it hoped a full rookie season would help sharpen some of the quarterback's natural skills.
But Richardson's first professional season never really got untracked.
He suffered a bruised knee near the end of his first start in the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, then left a Week 2 game against the Houston Texans early in the second quarter after suffering a concussion.
Richardson missed a Week 3 win on the road against the Baltimore Ravens — that would have pitted him against one of his role models in former MVP Lamar Jackson — but returned to start and finish a game for the first time in an overtime loss against the Los Angeles Rams.
With running back Jonathan Taylor returning from the physically unable to perform list and signing a contract extension after that contest, it appeared the Colts' offense was ready to take a step toward the next level.
But Taylor and Richardson played just a single snap together — a 3-yard run for the running back — before the quarterback suffered an AC joint injury in his throwing shoulder after being tackled on a rushing attempt in Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans.
Richardson and the team spent about two weeks getting opinions from doctors across the country before opting for surgery to repair the shoulder. That meant the quarterback's rookie year was over in October.
Ballard revealed on the podcast it was a difficult decision for Richardson, who badly wanted to continue playing and helping his teammates chase an AFC playoff berth.
The quarterback left an emotional voice mail for head coach Shane Steichen before undergoing the procedure, and Steichen shared the heart-felt message with the team.
The surgery was performed in Los Angeles by Dr. Neal ElAttrache — the Rams' head physician and sports medicine specialist widely considered one of the foremost shoulder experts in the nation.
Ballard confirmed the procedure went well and rehab also has been positive. Richardson returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center last week and will be as involved in team meetings, practices and games as possible over the season's final seven weeks.
There's plenty to build on from a rookie campaign that saw Richardson complete 59.5% of his passes for 577 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while rushing 25 times for 136 yards and four more scores.
True to his nature, however, Ballard isn't focused on the quarterback alone as the Colts attempt to move closer to championship contention.
The brief glimpse of Richardson on the field provided the GM with vital information around which to plan the offseason.
"Until you're around somebody — no matter how brilliant people are in this league, the more you see and when you get to see them play, a light goes off. 'OK, this is what we need to do to get this guy going,'" Ballard said on the podcast. "You anticipate and you project, but until you are with them and live with them and watch them play daily, understanding what a player can and can't do, especially at the quarterback position and how you got to build around it — I think we got a pretty good handle on him and what he can do and what we need to do to build around him."