Colts' optimism begins with healthy Richardson

Apr. 18—INDIANAPOLIS — Four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly has snapped the ball to seven different starting quarterbacks in the season opener since 2017.

If all goes to plan, the Indianapolis Colts will break that ignominious streak this year with Anthony Richardson making his second consecutive Week 1 start.

For all the talk of continuity this spring at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, consistency at quarterback might be the biggest gift of all.

Kelly has grown accustomed to quickly forming bonds with new signal-callers, but that process will be a little different this time around.

"I think it's great to have a little carryover year to year," Kelly said. "It's a little tougher because he had the injuries, so you're not always talking football 24/7, right? It was a lot of times just me and (former starter) Gardner (Minshew) going through blitzes and going through schemes, talking shop.

"... You get four hours here (in offseason training) during the day, but can we buy 30 minutes here to talk about whatever it is — life — at lunch? I think that has a lot of great deal of value for how this season's gonna go, and then ultimately the relationship between him and I is just going to continue to keep growing."

The same is true almost everywhere on offense as Richardson returns to the fold after making just four starts as a rookie.

He's already throwing again after a strained AC joint ended his 2023 campaign in October, and the Colts will be cautious with his workload this spring.

The team won't get on the field for full 11=on-11 practices until the middle of May, so there's no rush.

This time of year is more about forging the chemistry Kelly spoke of — a process Richarson is going through from Day 1 for the first time.

One thing is clear in the very early going. There's a great deal of optimism for what the 21-year-old is capable of in his second season.

"AR is gonna play all 17 (regular-season) games — I'm gonna put that out there — and then more because we're gonna keep going," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "So I'm super excited because when we do that, it'll be the longest quarterback I've had since I've been pro. So I'm super excited for that, to like develop that with him.

"And one thing that I've noticed just is his confidence is coming back, right? Because obviously he got hurt then had to watch all the other young QBs like C.J. (Stroud) and Bryce (Young) and Will (Levis) play. So I can see it in his eyes that he is ready and that he is ready for people to start talking about him, too."

A year ago, Richardson was still preparing for the NFL Draft and wondering which franchise he'd call home.

Once he was selected by Indianapolis with the fourth overall pick, his time and focus was on learning the playbook and preparing to compete with Minshew for the starting job.

This year, the rehab has progressed quickly, and there's no question Richardson is at the top of the depth chart.

"He's in a really good spot," Colts head coach Shane Steichen said. "Had really good discussions, that I'll obviously keep private, but he's in a really good spot. His shoulder is feeling good. He should be good to go for practices like we talked about ealier.

"He will be out there throwing, but we'll limit — we'll obviously monitor it, make sure we're smart with that, but he's in a really good place."

Indianapolis has a real sense of unfinished business after finishing 9-8 and coming 15 yards away from defeating the Houston Texans in Week 17 and winning its first AFC South championship since 2014.

With the bulk of the roster returning — and a rookie class set to join the fold next week — expectations are centered around returning to the postseason for the first time since 2020, at minimum.

Much of the hope for improvement in 2024 begins with a healthy Richardson under center.

And Kelly believes last year's injuries could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

"He was having a great year, and he was on a path to really learning to play really well in this league," Kelly said. "I think having an early setback like that, I think, early in your career can somewhat be helpful. I know it's kind of frowned upon to talk about that, but I think you learn in those moments and in those first years when you have a potential injury how to push through it.

"The adversity you're going to face in that time — whether it's mental, physical — I think you learn a lot about yourself, a lot about what you can do in this league. I think you've seen that so far, just the way he attacks the rehab, the way he attacks being present in meetings and learning from Gardner, whoever's in that (quarterback) room. Now he's got (Joe) Flacco to be in there, too. So I think just overall, at 21, it's been very impressive to see his progression, even though he had that setback early in the season."