Richardson readies for debut against defending AFC South champs

Sep. 9—INDIANAPOLIS — Quenton Nelson didn't pause to gather his thoughts or even to take an extra breath.

Asked whether he's more curious or confident about how rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson will perform in Sunday's season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Indianapolis Colts left guard left no room for interpretation in his support of the new face of the franchise.

"I would just say the way he comes into work every day and handles his business around the facility," Nelson said of the behavior that inspires his confidence. "Just takes care of business. What he's done in the huddle with communication, getting the cadence right and everything has been great. Then, on the field, just how special he is. He can run the ball. He can throw. He can do it all. And he's special."

The Colts are counting on it.

Coming off a disastrous 4-12-1 campaign in 2022, Indianapolis used the No. 4 overall pick in April's NFL Draft on Richardson, despite his lack of experience. The 21-year-old started just 13 games at Florida with mixed results.

But his athletic gifts are unlike any ever seen before at the position at the professional level, and as the team did its homework, it fell even more in love with Richardson as a person.

He's mature beyond his years and has displayed a tireless work ethic since entering the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for the first time in May.

Richardson won a training camp battle with veteran Gardner Minshew for the starting job and — even more impressively — was named one of seven captains in a vote by his teammates.

"I'm confident in his abilities, what he's been able to put on tape so far," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "And I'm confident that the vets, especially on the offensive side, will rally around him. The defense will rally around him. No matter what happens, the team's gonna have his back."

The challenge immediately ahead is significant.

Jacksonville won five straight games — and six of its last seven — down the stretch last season to overcome a 3-7 start and overtake the Tennessee Titans for its first AFC South championship since 2017.

The Jaguars then upset the Los Angeles Chargers with a stirring comeback in the wild-card round before falling to the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional playoffs.

With quarterback Trevor Lawrence entering his third season as a starter and a host of talented weapons at his disposal, Jacksonville is highly touted to repeat as division champ. Some pundits even see the Jaguars as dark horse Super Bowl contenders.

Slowing down a high-powered passing attack that has added Calvin Ridley to a returning mix of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram and Travis Etienne will be at the top of the Colts' to-do list.

If a young and inexperienced defensive secondary is to have any chance of accomplishing that feat, it will need plenty of help from the guys in the trenches.

Even when the visitors push the tempo.

"I think for the defensive line — if they are getting the ball out quick, we've got to be able to get our hands up if we can, and obviously we have to be sticky in coverage," first-year Indianapolis head coach Shane Steichen said. "We can't let them have the explosive plays when they throw something quick. We have to tackle and wrap up."

In a season of firsts for Steichen and Richardson, Jacksonville represents a significant checkpoint.

The Colts haven't won a Week 1 contest since 2013, and they are 4.5-point underdogs on their home field in a quest to end that streak Sunday.

With the weight of the fanbase on his shoulders and the expectations accompanying a high first-round pick, it would be understandable if Richardson succumbs to some jitters this week.

But the quarterback insists he's blocking out the noise and focusing on the job at hand.

"Don't overthink it," Richardson said. "Football is football. Trust my trainer, trust my information, trust my teammates, trust the coaches and just go out there and play. Don't overthink it and just play football."