Colts eager to see new offense come together – ESPN

INDIANAPOLIS — On a first-and-10 from the Colts’ own 25-yard line, quarterback Anthony Richardson took a shotgun snap and quickly tossed the ball to running back Jonathan Taylor on a routine play.

Very little about the moment in that Week 5 game from last season was memorable. Despite the two blockers ahead of Taylor on the sweep run to the left side, the Tennessee Titans’ defense reacted appropriately and limited him to a 3-yard gain.

Still, there was important symbolism worth noting: It was the first play in which the Colts’ star running back and promising rookie quarterback shared the backfield together, coming in Taylor’s first game after his activation from the physically unable to perform list.

But it would also be the one and only time Richardson and Taylor interacted on the field in 2023. A short time later, Richardson sustained a season-ending shoulder injury, upending the team’s plans to utilize the pair’s unique talents in tandem.

Now, with Richardson recovered and back in the lineup, to say there are high hopes around the pairing of Richardson and Taylor in 2024 would be an understatement.

“I think we could have the best RPO [run-pass option] game in the whole NFL,” receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “We went to the RPO a lot last year, and just being able to add Anthony’s legs, I mean, he can add in a whole other aspect which is you can’t really load up that box. He can pull it and throw it. You can’t really [concentrate] most of the defense towards J.T.”

But this season isn’t solely about the return of Richardson. It’s about a healthy Taylor, who last season was coming off ankle surgery and a protracted contract standoff that kept him out of training camp and the season’s first four games. It’s about a still-ascending Pittman, whom the Colts just re-signed to a $70 million extension.

It’s also about second-year receiver Josh Downs being a year older, tight end Jelani Woods coming back from a season lost to injury, the addition of speedy rookie wideout Adonai Mitchell and the potential to finally maximize third-year receiver Alec Pierce’s deep-ball potential with the strong-armed Richardson delivering the ball.

“We’re excited about that group,” general manager Chris Ballard said.

All told, the Colts haven’t felt this optimistic about their skill players in years. And having the pieces at the disposal of coach Shane Steichen puts him right where he wants to be.

“It’s fun and it’s exciting,” Steichen said. “Every week, we’ll have things [in the game plan] for every single guy.

“As far as the scheme goes, it’s exciting to have a whole bunch of guys that you can do a whole bunch of different things with.”

To that end, Steichen has been holed up in his office in recent months, plotting moves for the season that will allow him to exploit what he sees as numerous matchup advantages for Indianapolis. For a coach who prioritizes such matchups, having skill players with unique skill sets plays right into his hands.

Steichen also values multiple personnel groupings, something that can keep defenses off-balance. Whether it’s Richardson’s versatility (running and passing), Taylor’s speed, the size of Pittman and Woods or Mitchell’s explosiveness, the use of varied personnel will continue to be a feature of Steichen’s offense in 2024.

Now, maximizing the available talent has become priority No. 1. Steichen is looking at a variety of new schemes that can come from just about anywhere. He has created an atmosphere where no suggestion is too small, whether from his assistants or even his web-surfing quarterback.

“We just toss ideas around,” Richardson said. “He asks me how I feel about certain things, and, then if I see certain things on the internet, like if I see a sweep or an option play or something like that, I’ll say ‘Hey, that’s kind of nice.’ I’ll show it to him and he’ll be like, ‘OK, we might be able to throw that in.’

“It’s amazing to have a coach like that because we get to use our offense and use our weapons.”

The weapons projected to be on the field in Week 1 will look very different than they did in 2023. Taylor, Woods and backup receiver Ashton Dulin were all hurt to start the season. Then there’s Mitchell, who was still catching passes at Texas at the time.

Taylor’s availability, in particular, is huge. If he can recapture the flashes of greatness he showed last season — including a 188-yard performance in Week 18 — that could be a game-changer for Indianapolis. After getting a late start to the season in 2023, he suffered a broken hand that required surgery and sidelined him an additional three games in December.

Now recovered, it has been a productive offseason for Taylor.

“I feel great,” he said last week.

The Colts managed to produce at a respectable level last season even without an abundance of playmakers. With quarterback Gardner Minshew under center for 13 games and with backup running back Zack Moss leading the team in rushing attempts, the Colts still finished tied for 10th in points per game at 23.3. Indianapolis also ranked 16th in ESPN’s offensive efficiency metric and was 15th in yards per game (336.8). Indy just missed making the playoffs, falling in the season finale.

Much of that was the result of good execution, smart playcalling and creative schemes. Now, throw in some upgrades at the skill positions, and the Colts think they can take the next step.

“We’ve got young athletes, people who can run,” Richardson said. “… It’s going to be a crazy year.”

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