A year with the playbook, Anthony Richardson's mind is just as important as his arm, legs

INDIANAPOLIS — The Anthony Richardson question everybody keeps asking this offseason is the one he cannot control.

No matter how thoroughly he prepares, Richardson knows he has little say in his ability to stay healthy, and his Colts coaching staff can only help so much.

Richardson has a lot more control over the rest of his development, the part that has gone somewhat overlooked this offseason because of all the questions about his health.

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Armed with a surgically repaired right shoulder that appears to be fully healthy, Richardson’s attention this offseason has been focused on his command of the Colts offense, his ability to diagnose defenses and attack their weaknesses.

“I’m more comfortable with the offense now that I have a year under my belt,” Richardson said. “Not a year of playing time, but being in the meetings every day and just studying all the time, coming here early in the morning, meeting with (Colts coach Shane Steichen). That’s something I take pride in, because if I know the offense inside and out, like Shane does, I think we’re going to be unstoppable.”

Richardson has acknowledged he had to learn some hard lessons last season about how to protect himself, the toughest lesson coming in the form of a shot he took crossing the goal line in Houston, leading to a concussion. He knows he has to pick and choose his spots, make the right decisions on when to get down and when to try to pick up extra yardage.

The reality is injury would be a possibility even if the Colts put shackles on Richardson’s legs and made him a pocket passer. Cincinnati star Joe Burrow has suffered season-ending injuries in two of his four NFL seasons despite mostly playing from the pocket, and he’s far from the only NFL pocket passer who has been hit hard by injury over the years.

Indianapolis will try to protect Richardson as much as possible.

But the Colts coaching staff is more focused right now on how Richardson plays.

“Accelerated vision,” Steichen said. “Mechanics are obviously a part of it, but I think just accelerated vision, knowing where to go with the football and when to go with the football. Going through your reads, different coverages can dictate where that ball gets thrown.”

Indianapolis has been encouraged by Richardson’s growth in the offense.

Growth that mostly had to happen while he was sidelined.

“Anthony has really done a nice job diving into learning the offense, once again at a deep level,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “He’s able to operate the offense in his mind, with his notes, with every part of what we’re doing around here at a higher level than he was a year ago. That’s what all second-year quarterbacks should do over rookies.”

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The Colts are most excited about Richardson’s instinctive abilities.

What often gets hyped as improvisational, backyard-style football by NFL quarterbacks is actually born of a deep, in-depth understanding of the offense, a sense for where everybody is going to be and how the defense is moving.

Richardson had a few of those plays as a rookie, most notably the strike he fired to Alec Pierce with Aaron Donald bearing down on him against the Rams.

“Some of that stuff, we’re not quite able to coach,” Cooter said. “The guy can either sort of recognize the defense moving and take advantage of that, or not.”

Richardson already feels better prepared this offseason.

He worked hard to learn the playbook last spring — veteran wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. joked at the time he had to snap his fingers sometimes to get Richardson’s attention away from the playbook for a simple conversation — but there is a learning curve that is tricky to navigate.

Richardson entered the NFL with an idea of the routine he wanted to pursue every day.

But the initial plan changes with the reality of the daily NFL schedule, players realizing what works best for them.

“Being a rookie, (there was) so much that I had to take on, so much that I put on myself mentally,” Richardson said. “I wanted to be the best version of myself for the team. Now, the team knows I’m a worker, and I don’t plan on stopping that. … I get to relax and focus on certain things, more details, try to perfect the things I do know.”

And add things to the playbook as the Colts learn more about their second-year quarterback.

Steichen, Cooter and the rest of the Indianapolis offensive staff are constantly tweaking the offense, trying to stay on the cutting edge, and now they have a quarterback capable of offering his own input.

“It’s nonstop,” Richardson said. “It’s every day. Sometimes (Steichen will) text me, ‘’Hey, I’m thinking about throwing this in there, how do you feel about this? I love it. I feel like it’s going to work.’ We just toss ideas around. He asks me how I feel about certain things, and then if I see certain things on the Internet, like a sweep or option play or something like that, I’ll say ‘hey, that’s kind of nice,’ and I’ll show it to him, and he’ll be like ‘OK, we might be able to throw that in.’”

Richardson does plenty of work on his body.

He’d adopted an arm care routine before the injury that mimics what doctors have told him to do since he had surgery, and he has worked hard on his mechanics, trying to be more compact in his drop, take advantage of his quick feet.

But there is only so much Richardson can control physically.

If he can stay healthy, it’s the mental growth that could take the Colts offense to the next level.

Follow IndyStar Colts Insider Joel A. Erickson on X at @JoelAErickson.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts news: Anthony Richardson spent injury rehab studying playbook