INDIANAPOLIS – As the unemployed veteran quarterback was preparing for an uncertain future, one possibility bounced around in his head.
Gardner Minshew II was attacking his normal offseason regimen in Florida, and this time was joined by Anthony Richardson, the much-hyped prospect out of the University of Florida. They share the same quarterback coach.
“We were around each other a good bit,’’ Minshew said Wednesday. “Not necessarily working out together, but next to each other a lot.’’
His first impression?
“Obviously, the first thing is just how impressive . . . the ball jumps out of his hand,’’ Minshew said. “Physically, you’ve got everything you want. Just seeing him is like, ‘Wow, this dude’s really got a chance.’
“Then getting around him and seeing how he works, how he takes criticism and wants to learn and get better, all of those things are really, really encouraging to be around.’’
The dynamics were intriguing. Each had no idea what the future held.
Minshew was an unrestricted free agent whose last two seasons were with the Philadelphia Eagles and working in coordinator Shane Steichen’s offense as Jalen Hurts’ backup. Two days after the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Steichen was named the Colts’ head coach.
Richardson was considered a likely first-round pick in the April draft, and his entry level would steadily increase as the draft neared.
At some point during their workouts, Minshew wondered . . . What if?
“Yeah, for sure,’’ he said. “You just start looking ahead and you’re like, ‘Man, I would like to play for Shane. That would be pretty cool. Man, (the Colts) are picking at 4. They might pick a quarterback. This guy I’m working out with, he might be picked at 4. Who knows?’’’
Now, we know.
A month after Steichen relocated to Indy, Minshew did likewise with a one-year, $3.5 million contract. It was considered one of the offseason’s most likely free-agent outcomes.
On April 27, Richardson joined them as the draft’s No. 4 overall pick and the unquestioned catalyst of the franchise’s future.
“We drafted him for what we think he can really be in the future,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said.
The prevailing question regarding Richardson: how quickly might that future arrive?
Owner Jim Irsay and Steichen have made it clear Richardson’s development hinges on getting as many reps – during offseason work, training camp, preseason games – as possible.
Irsay added the team will help hasten Richardson’s growth and readiness for regular-season games – perhaps even the Sept. 10 opener against Jacksonville – by tailoring the offense to reflect a rookie QB.
“You hope . . . that Shane’s going to create an offense, simplify things and Jonathan Taylor coming back adds a huge plus because of that double threat of their speed and both are unprecedented players at their positions in terms of size, speed and what they can do.
So, what of Minshew?
His signing with the Colts was viewed as a perfect fit. He had intimate knowledge of Steichen’s offense and has had success both as a starter and backup. Minshew has appeared in 32 games in four seasons – two with the Eagles after two in Jacksonville – and has an 8-16 record as a starter with 44 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 93.1 passer rating.
How does he fit following Richardson’s acquisition?
“I’m trying to get better and have fun every day,’’ he said. “If I do those things, we’re going to be all right. I think for the team to be the best that we can be, every player has to be the best they can be.
“So, I think taking personal responsibility for yourself and then helping others after that is kind of like ‘Fix your air mask before you put it on other people.’ You know what I’m saying?
“But definitely help when you can.’’
It’s critical for all position rooms to be tight and free of tension, but none more so than the quarterbacks. Minshew, Richardson and Sam Ehlinger will compete for practice reps and positioning on the depth chart, but there must be a culture of collegiality.
“It’s huge, man,’’ Minshew said. “If you have a room that’s splintered or rooting against each other, it’s no fun for anybody and it really pulls the team apart. I think more than anything you compete, and you compete to make each other better. You push each other, but at the end of the day, whoever is out there, no matter who it is, we are all wanting to win and we’re all wanting to help them win.’’
Richardson has had limited time as Minshew’s teammate, but described their relationship as “great.’’ It took root during their time in Florida.
“While we were training, doing some combine prepping stuff, he was down there putting his work in, grinding,’’ he said. “For some odd reason, our trainers were like, ‘You guys might end up together and if you guys did end up together, that would be good.’
“Now look at us. That’s a great dude I can learn from. I’m ready to learn from that guy. We already have a small relationship, but I’m looking forward to building on that.’’
The Colts face one significant balancing act as they prepare for 2023: divvying up the practice reps to ensure Richardson and Minshew are ready for the opener.
Ideally, a team has a no-doubt No. 1 QB who gets the vast majority of the work with the No. 1 offense. That’s not the situation in Indy, at least not yet.
“Sometimes it’s hard,’’ Minshew conceded. “Like we were saying, just getting reps . . . so much of learning is just experience and getting out there.’’
That was the case for Minshew in 2019. He was the Jaguars’ sixth-round pick – No. 178 overall – and viewed as a promising backup for veteran Nick Foles, who signed a massive four-year, $88 million free-agent contract in the offseason.
That all changed in the season opener against Kansas City. Foles suffered a broken left collarbone in the first quarter. Enter Minshew. He enjoyed a stunning debut by completing 22-of-25 passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a 40-26 loss to the Chiefs.
He played, learned and produced. By season’s end, Minshew had a 6-6 record as a starter with 21 TDs, six interceptions and a 91.2 rating.
“The thing about quarterback, I think one of the only ways to get better is to play it,’’ he said. “So, getting that experience is huge. Going out there, seeing looks, feeling the speed, that’s something you really can’t replicate in any other way.
“It’s huge just getting any type of experience. Any type of game snaps is really, really important.’’
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