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Colts Training Camp: Rookies mesh with first-team reps

NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs returns a kickoff against Buffalo Bills wide receiver Bryan Thompson in the third quarter of a pre-season game at Highmark Stadium.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

WESTFIELD – Colts head coach Shane Steichen approached the media tent after Tuesday’s hour-long practice and made an opening statement to name Anthony Richardson the starting quarterback for the 2023-24 season.

“After evaluating training camp and the film and all that, I’ve made the decision. Anthony (Richardson) will be the starting quarterback this year for us,” Steichen said. “I like the progress he’s made, excited about his future and his playmaking ability that he brings to this football team.”

At 21-years old, Richardson had no clue he would be called into Steichen’s office for a meeting to be delivered the veritable keys to the Colts franchise. After Steichen relayed the decision to Richardson, the pair talked about life for two hours and built a stronger relationship.

Steichen said Richardson “worked his tail off” to learn the playbook and his offensive system. Once the offensive and defensive units split fields to begin individual work, Richardson continued to work on ball placement with fades & out routes to the back pylon of the end zone.

Granted, Gardner Minshew got thrown to the wolves with the second-team offensive line, but it's clear the offensive unit needs an athletic player to pair with Jonathan Taylor. Find the last Colts QB who could evade the pass rush.

Richardson led the first-team offense for 12:05 in his preseason start in Buffalo and completed 7-of-12 passes for 67 yards. He is labeled as raw, but has displayed elite arm strength, speed, agility, and the evasiveness to earn the Week 1 starting nod. What he lacks is experience, which would not develop by watching Minshew get smoked in the backfield. The rookie is less accurate than Minshew (63% completion through four NFL seasons), but his timing would not develop by practicing with the second-team receivers.

“I think we need more reps,” Steichen said. “Keep getting him more reps, keep creating that chemistry with the ones. The more reps he gets, the more he sees. The more looks he sees, he’s going to be better for it.”

According to, the Colts receiving corps is ranked among the worst four units in the AFC. Indianapolis is ranked ahead of New England (signed JuJu Smith-Schuster in March), Tennessee (signed DeAndre Hopkins in July), and Houston (drafted Tank Dell and signed TE Dalton Schultz during offseason), who have all upgraded the receiver skill group.

Richardson began the initial four-minute team drill by completing a pass to Michael Pittman Jr. on a curl route. On the next play, Pierce ran a comeback route near the sideline and Richardson fired a low strike for a first down. The rookie QB connected with Pierce running out routes on both sides of the formation during 7-on-7s, and threw his only touchdown to Pierce on a 35-yard bullet down the seam.

Colts third round draft pick Josh Downs worked the slot with the first-team offense and was in sync with Richardson targeting him in each practice session. On Richardson’s last throw of the first team drill, he found Downs on a shallow crosser to move past midfield. In his next pass attempt during 7-on-7s, Richardson worked on passes near the numbers and found Downs open on an out route at the sticks.

Richardson and Downs connected one final time on a drag route to begin the final team drill, and finished 9-of-12 passing in 11-on-11 drills. Downs walked the tightrope and kept his balance by tiptoeing near the sideline.

Blake Freeland took first-team reps in place of right tackle Braden Smith, who is dealing with a knee injury. Danny Pinter worked the snaps to Richardson in place of center Ryan Kelly. Eric Johnson II competed with the first-team defense in place of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who missed the preseason opener with a foot injury.

After recovering from an off-season hamstring injury, Julian Blackmon was cleared to participate in his first training camp practice on Tuesday. Blackmon mentioned being engaged mentally during his transition to strong safety, despite the inability to take reps at his new position until the final week of training camp.

“It’s completely different when you get out there and play, but because of OTA’s, I had that time to get a good solid foundation of where I was,” Blackmon said. “Learning with the coaches and making sure that I knew what I was doing when I came back was almost like riding a bike kind of.”

Indianapolis will host the Chicago Bears for a pair of joint-practices at Grand Park before Saturday’s Week 2 preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I’m just excited to see a joint practice,” Richardson said. “I’ve never had that before so I’m excited to see how we compete with other people in this practice time. Looking forward to Saturday.”