WESTFIELD – The next natural step in the evolution of the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback of the future comes Saturday in western New York.
Anthony Richardson, welcome to the NFL.
The No. 4 overall pick in the April draft – and the player most entrusted to lead a franchise back to prominence – will make his pro debut when Richardson leads the Colts onto the field against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium.
“I want to see just where he’s at,’’ Shane Steichen said of his decision to start his high-profile rookie over veteran Gardner Minshew II. “You know, get him out there with the guys and go from there.’’
Richardson was informed of his pending start a few minutes before Thursday morning’s indoor practice at Grand Park Sports Campus. There was a brief emotional rush, but it quickly subsided.
“I knew I was going to play regardless, so I wasn’t really stressing whether I was going to start or not because I was going to get my reps,’’ Richardson said. “But I’m excited.
“I get to go out there first and hopefully put some points up early.’’
Everyone in a position of authority – from owner Jim Irsay to general manager Chris Ballard to Steichen – has stressed the importance of Richardson getting every repetition possible as offseason work transitioned to training camp and, eventually, preseason games.
The Colts hooked their future to Richardson even though he started 13 games and attempted fewer than 400 passes at Florida.
As camp has unfolded, Richardson and Minshew have shared the first-team reps. Richardson’s rare athletic ability has been obvious, but he’s still struggling with his accuracy. Saturday, he completed just 5-of-12.
“You have to get reps, with any player,’’ Ballard said when camp opened. “The more live-bullet reps . . . like we can go through camp and get every rep we can, but until you’re in a game and you’re actually getting those live-bullet reps, it’s hard to really grow and get better.’’
Richardson’s debut will be buttressed by working behind the starting offensive line, although rookie Blake Freeland probably starts at right tackle. Mainstay Braden Smith is dealing with a knee injury.
“There is going to be some successes,’’ Ballard said, “but there is going to be some failures too along the way. You want them to be ready to handle enough of the offense where we can give him enough tools to where they can perform and have success.
“You want to be able to set him up to have some success early, not just all downhill.”
The longer Richardson talked about his first start, the more it became apparent it’ll be more than just another game.
“I get to showcase what I’m able to do with the 1s a little bit,’’ he said. “First NFL experience, you know I’m excited for it.
“Same rodeo. Just get to play ball again.
An otherwise routine preseason game represents a significant next step for Richardson.
“Definitely,’’ he said. “It lets me know where I’m at. I’m definitely excited to go against a different opponent instead of going against Zaire (Franklin) and Shaq Leonard every single day.’’
Where is his development at this point?
“Honestly I don’t know because I haven’t gone up against anybody yet,’’ he said. “But I feel I’m in a good spot and hopefully I can showcase that Saturday.
“I think I’ve taken a big step regarding everything, whether it’s chemistry, play-calling or even just recognition of a defense. I feel like I’ve grown a lot, but there’s still room for improvement. I feel like I can just keep on pushing.’’
Richardson’s primary objective against the Bills is basic.
“Get a victory,’’ he said. “First NFL experience, just try to get a victory and just showcase my talent and my ability and just be a leader and just push the team.
“Just consistency. I know I can run. I know I can pass. Whatever coach calls, I’m just gonna make sure I do my job the right way and just be consistent.’’
In a perfect world, Richardson’s family would be on hand for his coming-out experience. That won’t be the case.
“My little brother has a game this Saturday, so they’re going to watch him play,’’ he said. “I wish I could watch him, but I’ve got to handle business.’’
Jonathan Taylor is expected to return to Grand Park next week after working out on his own away from the team this week.
“He should be back, yeah, next week,’’ Steichen said.
Might Taylor be cleared to practice?
“I don’t have an answer for that,’’ he said. “I don’t have a timetable for that, but really looking forward to getting him back and getting him healthy and getting him out there playing with the guys.’’
That won’t happen until Taylor is cleared by the team’s medical staff. He remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) while recovering from Jan. 25 surgery on his right ankle.
Roughly 16 players were held out of Thursday’s work. There’s a good chance all won’t play against the Bills.
Added to the list was right tackle Braden Smith, who’s dealing with a knee injury.
“I don’t have a timetable, but it shouldn’t be too long,’’ Steichen said.
Thursday marked the first time any of the starting linemen missed a camp repetition. Again, Freeland, a fourth-round draft pick, stepped in for Smith.
Also, Kenyan Drake was unable to finish practice. The recently-signed veteran running back limped off the field during 11-on-11 work.