There’s a new power couple in Indianapolis. There’s also a new buzzword.
For the Colts, both were needed. Few teams have suffered through a more complete disaster than Indianapolis did in 2022, going 4–12-1 while starting three quarterbacks—two of which are no longer in the league—and rolling with two head coaches, including one in Jeff Saturday who brought national ridicule.
Enter Shane Steichen and Anthony Richardson, the coach and quarterback Colts’ fans are hoping will be heroes with horseshoes.
While Richardson’s early role in his rookie season remains somewhat unknown, Steichen’s is clear: It’s about establishing one trait above all else.
“Energy. I want to bring constant energy every single day to the building, because I think energy fuels emotion,” Steichen told Sports Illustrated on Saturday at Colts training camp in Westfield, Ind. “When you’re energetic and those guys feel it, coaches are a reflection of your players. If you don’t have a lot of energy, how do you expect your players to have energy? Always bring the energy every day and be the same guy every day. Be true to who you are.”
So far, so good.
Steichen has been active in training camp practices, making sure his presence is felt. For example, the Colts were running team periods Saturday night. Richardson dropped back and threw a bullet along the left sideline, but it was off-target, one of only two passes that night which hit the ground. Steichen immediately became animated, expressing his displeasure to the receiver who apparently ran the wrong route.
“Shane gets fired up, man. I love it,” quarterback Gardner Minshew says. “That dude loves ball, like he would watch it all day, would talk about it all day, coach it all day. Just really super passionate. It makes it a lot of fun to work with.”
Minshew knows Steichen better than anybody in Indianapolis, having worked under him the past two years as a backup for Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia. This offseason, Minshew signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Colts in March, despite being told by Steichen the franchise could be looking to take a quarterback early in the draft.
And like in Philadelphia, despite currently being in a battle to start, there’s a good chance Minshew ends up holding the clipboard and helping a youngster along. Frankly, it would be the ideal scenario for Indianapolis, which has cycled through an astounding seven starting quarterbacks over the past four seasons.
Steichen, 38, won’t be hesitant to go with a youngster under center if he feels Richardson can handle it. As the offensive coordinator with the Chargers in 2020, Steichen called plays for Justin Herbert, then a rookie. Herbert started 15 games, throwing for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns. The following year, Steichen took the same post in Philadelphia and helped guide the Eagles into the playoffs with a second-year signal-caller in Hurts. Last year, Hurts became a second-team All-Pro and delivered an NFC championship and Super Bowl berth.
Although Richardson has been uneven at times in camp, his ability is impossible to miss. It’s what pulled the Colts toward him with the No. 4 pick in April’s draft, despite having only 916 pass attempts between high school and college, all while completing less than 55 percent of his throws at each level.
“When you watch him, obviously his ability on tape sticks out right away, just his physical traits that he presents on the field for a defense,” Steichen says. “And then, really, the way the ball came off his hand. You watch his college tape and it’s really effortless, it comes out, he can make all the throws. Then he gives you that extra element in the run game as well. Super excited about him.”
But at the moment, while deciding who will start Week 1 is atop the checklist, Steichen is focused on the bigger picture.
The Colts have star running back Jonathan Taylor both on the PUP list and demanding a trade after a public back-and-forth with volatile owner Jim Irsay. They’re also without an elite pass catcher, as Michael Pittman Jr. is the only man on the depth chart to ever notch a 1,000-yard season.
Defensively, the pass rush is a question mark with the hope that run-stuffing defensive tackle Grover Stewart and edge rusher Kwity Paye can provide more punch in the sack department. At corner, there’s veteran Kenny Moore II and little else in the way of proven talent, although second-round pick JuJu Brents has a high ceiling. Then there’s three-time All-Pro middle linebacker Shaquille Leonard, returning from back surgery after playing just three games last season.
“There’s a lot of good pieces in place here,” Steichen says. “I’m very fortunate in that regard with Chris Ballard; I think he’s a phenomenal general manager. … As a head coach, from a culture standpoint, you want to put your stamp on it, how you want it to look, have the players buy in. It’s a day-by-day grind.”
That grind is trying to bring a winner to Indianapolis, something Steichen was part of with the Eagles. In that vein, some of Philadelphia has been brought to the Midwest, whether it be the playbook or Steichen’s relentless quest for more energy on the field.
The bad news? The Colts aren’t as talented as those Eagles teams of the past few years. The good news? Indianapolis presents a blank slate to Steichen, and as Minshew points out, with a group of players willing to hear a new message.
“We have a great locker room right now,” Minshew says. “One of the good things about not having a ton of success recently is there’s not a ton of ego, you know? There’s not a bunch of ‘me’ guys when it’s going like that. We have a bunch of humble guys who are on the same page, wanting to win, wanting to get better, wanting to practice hard. I think we’re doing all the right things right now.”
On Sept. 10 against the Jaguars, Steichen and his Colts will take the field. Who will start at quarterback is unknown. But at some juncture, it’ll be Richardson, binding the two most important men in the building into the future.
In the meantime, Steichen is working to create energy, something the franchise — and its suffering fans — have been in desperate need of.