INDIANAPOLIS – It’s going to be the first-year head coach who determines which quarterback has the distinction of being the Indianapolis Colts’ seventh different opening-day starter in September.
“It’s going to be Shane’s call,’’ Jim Irsay said Saturday.
Shane Steichen will have ample input in that critical decision-making process, but his new boss made it abundantly clear where he stands before the team’s latest quarterback of the future has even stepped foot on the practice field.
The Colts selected Anthony Richardson with the No. 4 pick in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft for a reason.
Irsay insisted it’s important for his 20-year-old quarterback with 13 career starts at Florida to play. Early and a lot. Even in the season opener in September.
“I think it is,’’ he said. “You get better by playing. Practice and preseason games and watching in the quarterback room is great, but, man, I tell ya, you get better by playing.
“It’s really important because, again, his development adds so much of a key to the franchise’s future. It’s the critical key. Everyone knows that him developing into an outstanding, great player in this league is going to determine where we go and how far we go and how long we go with excellence.’’
Thursday evening, General Manager Chris Ballard attempted to temper the hype that always follows a top-4 quarterback into the NFL.
“He’s got to come in and earn his way like every player we bring in,’’ he said. “Let’s not expect him to be Superman from day 1. I think history has shown there’s not many of them that are Superman from day 1. Some of them it takes two, three years for them to become a really good player.
“We’ve got to let these guys develop and play.’’
Irsay didn’t necessarily disagree but seemed to realign the timeframe. He favors a play-and-develop sequence.
The man who’s investing a guaranteed $35.585 million in Richardson’s four-year rookie contract (with a fifth-year option) is leaning toward that investment starting from the outset.
“The primary reason why you’re starting him opening game is because he gets better by playing,’’ Irsay said. “That’s the biggest benefit from it.
“At the same time, I have to say our fans have to have patience because it’s hard being the rookie quarterback, it really is. I have to imagine if he plays the whole season it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be more difficult than easy, I’ll put it that way.’’
There’s clearly precedence in the Colts asking a lottery-pick quarterback to lead them from day 1. And the results were mixed.
In 1998, they selected Peyton Manning as No. 1 overall. The Colts finished 3-13 – the 13 losses were more than Manning had experienced in college and high school – with Manning taking every snap. His 28 interceptions remain an NFL rookie record.
Yet Manning benefitted from the difficult beginning and, well, you know the rest.
In 2012, they drafted Andrew Luck No. 1 overall. Luck started the opener at Chicago – a 41-21 loss – and the 15 games that followed. He was the catalyst to an 11-5 record and wild-card playoff berth.
Irsay said Steichen will build a simplified offense that takes into account Richardson’s inexperience but maximizes his unique skills. That should ease the transition and growing pains.
“But it’s tough,’’ Irsay said. “It’s going to be tough. But it’s the way to go. “He’s gotta play to get better.’’
Ballard revealed he had essentially settled on Richardson as his priority roughly a month ago. Irsay was on board, especially after Steichen convinced him he could have a strong impact on Richardson’s growth as a passer.
“I felt his upside and what he brought to the table,’’ Irsay said. “(But) it has to be Shane’s guy.’’
A couple of other interesting tidbits from Irsay:
*The Colts liked Richardson so much they would have taken him No. 1 overall. That’s how much we liked him,’’ he said.
*If Richardson hadn’t been available at No. 4, the Colts likely would have opted for Kentucky’s Will Levis.
“We liked him. We did,’’ Irsay said.
*Irsay always believed Richardson was “the right guy,’’ but there still was a bit of concern.
“The only time I felt immense confidence is when we drafted Elway and Andrew,’’ he said.
The team was rock-solid on Manning, but Irsay said there still were lingering questions, minor as they were, regarding Manning’s arm strength.
*Irsay has no concerns about whether Richardson has the wherewithal to handle what’s to come.
“You could just see when he looks you in the eye what kind of young man he is,’’ he said.
Irsay met with Richardson after he became a Colt and Edgerrin James was in the room. He laid out a possible future for Richardson.
“I said, ‘You have a 12-, 14-year career in this league and you’re a quarterback and you’re going to make a billion dollars. A billion. A billion,’’’ Irsay said. “I said, ‘That’s something obviously for your family, your legacy and generations to come, but what about greatness on the field? What about rings? What about the Lombardi? What about your legacy as a football player?’
“I said, ‘I was just in Canton with (James). Anthony, if you want to walk in those rare spaces it’s going to take something.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.