INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rookie Anthony Richardson already has made two promising NFL starts.
Indianapolis Colts fans are still waiting to see the new franchise quarterback finish a game.
The 21-year-old former Florida star, who seems built to last at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, starts Week 3 in the concussion protocol after leaving in the first half of Sunday's 31-20 victory at Houston.
“We’re going to work through those things and we’ll talk through those tonight. I don’t have a definitive answer for you right now,” first-time head coach Shane Steichen said Monday when asked how much practice time Richardson could miss this week and still play next weekend. "We’ll make that decision as the week goes on.”
Richardson's performance at the league's scouting combine had scouts raving about his strong arm and uncanny athleticism. A 4.43-second 40-yard dash only demonstrated how successful he could be as a rusher.
But even an athlete that big, that fast and that strong is susceptible to injuries, and the first two forced Richardson out of games. He missed the final minute of Indy's season-opening loss to Jacksonville with a bruised knee before leaving Sunday with a concussion.
It's uncertain whether Richardson can clear the protocol in time to start when the Colts (1-1) return to their original home city, Baltimore (2-0). If not, backup Gardner Minshew likely will.
While nobody is quibbling about Richardson's early results — he's completed 63.8% of his throws for 279 yards with one TD, one interception and four sacks and has 13 carries for 75 yards and three scores — the question is whether he can stay healthy.
After the Jaguars game, quarterback Trevor Lawrence urged Richardson to protect himself. Last Wednesday, Richardson said he would heed Lawrence's advice after previously joking with reporters he'd only slid seven times in his career.
But instead of avoiding the hit from Houston safety M.J. Stewart that knocked him out of the game, the jogging Richardson hit the ground and the back of his head banged against Houston's turf. Richardson played two more series before self-reporting the injury.
And now, just two games into his pro career, the Colts are fielding questions about how to keep their starting quarterback healthy.
“When he hit the corner, he was like, ‘Oh, I’m scoring,’ and all of the sudden the safety came out there and then caught him in his vision. That was more of what it was than anything,” Steichen said. “Again it takes time. A young player learning when to be smart, getting down and knowing when you’re going to take the hit.”
Pass rush. The Colts consistently pressured an AFC South quarterback for the second straight week. They sacked Houston rookie C.J. Stroud six times and hit him nine. Indy also has turned strip-sacks of Stroud and Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence into TDs during the first two games, and if the pass rush stays strong, it should help the Colts' young secondary.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Third and fourth-down stops. Indy took control Sunday by scoring two TDs in the first six minutes and led by double digits for the final 39 minutes, but the conversion rates will cause consternation. Houston was 9 of 19 on third down and converted both fourth-down attempts. If those numbers don't improve, they will prove costly.
RB Zack Moss. One week after Colts backs had 18 carries for 28 yards, Moss returned from a broken right forearm and provided a big boost. The veteran finished with 18 carries, 88 yards and one TD, giving the offense enough balance to alleviate some of the pressure on Minshew.
WR Alec Pierce. Indy's top draft pick in 2022 hasn't done anything wrong. He's just been lost in the shuffle. While Pierce has the size and body control to emerge as an elite receiver, he only has three catches for 33 yards and five total targets in two weeks as the passing game has relied most heavily on Michael Pittman Jr., and rookie Josh Downs, Richardson's training camp roommate.
Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly also was put into the concussion protocol during Sunday's game and, like Richardson, the Colts won't know if he can play till later this week. Steichen said TE Drew Ogletree was inactive Sunday despite being cleared last week. All-Pro LG Quenton Nelson played through an injured toe.
Two. Minshew made his second appearance for the Colts in two weeks and led his new team to two first-half TDs. He was 19 of 23 with 171 yards and one TD while running, yes, twice for 3 yards.
An emotional coach Steichen earned his first game ball by getting his first victory as a head coach. Now, with or without Richardson, the Colts will look to build momentum after snapping an eight-game losing streak that went back to last November. It won't be easy to do when visiting the franchise's old hometown, Baltimore, even with a defense playing well.
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Michael Marot, The Associated Press