WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard knows rookie quarterbacks learn best from playing.
He’s just not willing to throw Anthony Richardson on the field just yet.
Richardson, the No. 4 overall draft pick, arrived at his first NFL training camp Tuesday with big expectations on a team that intends to patiently monitor his progression through the preseason.
“You don’t want to put him out there and he’s not ready to handle everything that requires him playing the position,” Ballard said. “So I’ll lean heavily on our coaching staff on what they think, what they think he can handle and what he’s ready for. Then, eventually, he’ll play.”
Ballard didn’t say whether Richardson must hit certain milestones or could make his debut in small, specialized packages.
But breaking in new quarterbacks has become part of Indy’s annual routine.
When they host Jacksonville on Sept. 10, it will be the seventh straight season Indy has had a new opening day starter behind center Ryan Kelly. Perhaps, as was the case in 2012 with Andrew Luck, Richardson can usher in a new era of stability after signing a four-year, fully guaranteed $34 million contract Monday.
He earned the title of most athletic quarterback in NFL scouting combine history with an incredible workout on what will now be his new home turf, Lucas Oil Stadium, and it didn’t take Richardson’s new teammates long to become believers, too.
“When I first saw him, I’m like this dude looks like a running back, a quarterback, an elite receiver,” receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “He looks like he can do it all. And like his arm, he’ll just flick his wrist and it goes 80 yards.”
It seems the only real question is when will Richardson start making an impact?
The 21-year-old rookie dubbed the new face of Indy’s franchise enters the league after going 6-7 as Florida’s starter and completing only 53.8% of his throws in his one and only season as the Gators top quarterback.
Indy has drafted only two other quarterbacks in the first round over the past quarter century — Luck in 2012 and Peyton Manning in 1998. While both went No. 1 overall and opened their rookie seasons as the starter, it seems unlikely Richardson will follow the same path.
Still, fans are so eager to see Richardson that the Colts have already run out of tickets for several training camp practices.
“We all know, especially when you draft one (quarterback) that high, he’s automatically stamped as the savior before he’s ever played a down,” Ballard said. “He and I have had long talks about being able to handle the highs and lows of the position because you have to.”
Fortunately for the Colts, reporting day was much less stressful than an offseason that included a coaching change, adding a new offensive coordinator, signing veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew, drafting Richardson and a slew of draft weekend trades that included the selection of 12 players.
It also included running back Jonathan Taylor airing complaints about a still-to-be negotiated contract extension, how the overall league values the position and a gambling scandal that led to the release of cornerback Isaiah Rodgers Sr., a potential starter, and defensive end Rashod Berry. Ten players around the league are facing gambling suspensions this year.
“They made bad choices. The league’s pretty clear on what can and can’t be done. They broke the rules and they paid a price for it,” Ballard said. “It’s pretty clear to me — don’t bet, don’t bet on football, don’t bet on games, especially when you’re in the building. Be smart.”
Taylor reported on time but isn’t expected to speak until after new coach Shane Steichen holds his first practice Wednesday. Richardson and Steichen are also scheduled to speak Wednesday at the Grand Park sports complex.
Only two players, defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis (knee surgery) and rookie tight end William Mallory (foot), are expected to start camp on the physically unable to perform list. Others may be limited early in camp, Ballard said.
The Colts also announced free agent defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad will return to Indy after playing last season in Chicago for former Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
For now, though, Richardson’s status remains all the rage as camp opens.
“When it’s 11 on 11 and you’re playing for keeps, it’s different,” Ballard said. “Even 11 on 11 in practice when they’re not getting hit, the threat of getting hit isn’t there. So until you get in those moments, that’s where your real growth takes place.”
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