WESTFIELD, Ind. — If Saturday was the appetizer, Sunday was the full entrée.
Anthony Richardson was sharp during an indoor practice Saturday, throwing a pair of touchdowns passes to Amari Rodgers and Drew Ogletree in 11-on-11, but that was with the second unit. The Indianapolis Colts’ prized rookie was back with the first unit Sunday and shined to the tune of three touchdown passes in 11-on-11, including a play-action deep throw to Alec Pierce, who cruised into the end zone untouched.
“Shoot, he made a heck of a throw,” Colts head coach Shane Steichen said. “It was one-on-one backside and we had another combination over there, and he snapped back and threw that one-on-one. It was a great throw and a great catch.”
That was Richardson’s most impressive throw of the day, but it wasn’t his best overall moment. That came in the final team period, when Steichen made up a scenario that put the offense in an eight-point deficit with less than a minute to play. From just outside the red zone, Richardson and company had 46 seconds to drive down the field, score a touchdown and then convert the two-point conversion to stay alive.
Richardson needed just three plays to knot the game. He began the drive with an RPO handoff to Jake Funk for a first down and then nailed Kylen Granson on a corner route to the end zone. The rookie capped it off with an RPO keeper around the edge for the two-point conversion.
“Man, honestly he’s just so much more comfortable,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said. “(He’s) starting to find his rhythm, starting to find that version of his game in this offense at this level, which is great to see. Obviously, mistakes are still there. He’s still a young player, but it’s just encouraging to see that growth, especially from early on until now.”
#Colts practice 8 recap (the 🪣 hat returns):
— Anthony Richardson’s best day
— Shaq Leonard’s near interception
— Injuries to keep an eye on (still no Jonathan Taylor)
— Julius Brents making plays pic.twitter.com/HmGk2GuBrl
— James Boyd (@RomeovilleKid) August 7, 2023
Richardson threw a near-interception to Shaq Leonard in seven-on-seven, which could’ve got in his head. But he responded during the first 11-on-11 period with a short touchdown throw to Michael Pittman Jr. in the flat to get back on track.
“He’s just always the same,” Pittman said last week of Richardson’s demeanor. “I’ve never noticed a change in him. He’s stone cold 24/7.”
Richardson finished 5-of-8 passing Sunday after going 9-for-11 on Saturday. Gardner Minshew got all of the first-team reps Saturday and was 9-for-12 passing with a touchdown, and he followed that up with a 14-for-18 showing alongside the second unit Sunday. The veteran went through the same end-of-game situation as Richardson and led the offense down the field, but he was picked off in the end zone by E.J. Speed on the last play of practice.
Richardson has about 20 more first-team reps than Minshew through eight training camp sessions, despite missing one due to nose surgery. Steichen hasn’t named a starter overall nor for the Colts’ preseason opener Saturday at Buffalo, but the No. 4 pick is clearly moving in the right direction.
“I thought he had a heck of a day (Sunday),” Steichen said. “He was really solid, made some big-time throws. Obviously, the two-minute drive, threw a nice touchdown right there in the end zone and then the two-point play that he ran in. It was pretty good to see.”
Shaq Leonard progresses
Leonard graduated to 11-on-11 drills and full contact Saturday and was back out there again Sunday. He is still on a pitch count, Steichen said, but compared to last year at this time, he’s in a much better place following his second back surgery last November.
The four-time All-Pro snagged four interceptions during his last full season in 2021, and he was livid that he didn’t secure Richardson’s errant throw Sunday in seven-on-seven. After the ball hit the grass, Leonard picked it up and spiked it in frustration as his teammates hyped him up.
Leonard left one of the 11-on-11 series early and appeared to be in pain, but he never sought the help of a trainer and returned to the action shortly after. He did not show any discomfort at the end of practice.
“It feels amazing, especially being away from contact for a long time,” Leonard said Saturday. “(I’m) easing it back in and then now just going out and just taking the fear out of making contact.”
Leonard said nothing is off limits for him anymore, though he’s heeded the advice of the medical staff and will continue to be patient. The 28-year-old has been watching film of himself to chart his recovery, and he’s pleased with his progress.
“I’m starting to see somebody that resembles the guy that I used to know,” Leonard said. “I’m building more confidence, I’m shooting throw gaps, getting in windows, stuff like that. That’s who I want to see on film and that’s what I’m happy to see right now.”
Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr. on a potential extension: ‘Every player wants to get paid’
Julius Brents, a second-round pick, finally participated in his first Colts practice Saturday. The rookie cornerback was sidelined during the spring after undergoing left wrist surgery and missed the first six training camp practices due to a hamstring injury.
He’s fully healed now and proved it in his second practice Sunday by decking fellow rookie Evan Hull after Hull made a catch out of the backfield, and diving to break up a last-second pass to Ashton Dulin.
“Football is football, especially when you’re a guy like me,” Brents said, asked if an NFL practice felt grander. “You just gotta have that confidence, especially being a defensive back. Keeping a chip on your shoulder and just going out there to compete. … Obviously, it’s on a different stage now, but just having the same mentality that got me here.”
Brents, an Indianapolis native, said his family wasn’t in attendance for his debut Saturday because of a family reunion in Alabama. Normally, he’d be there, too, but he had a pretty good excuse as he aims for a starting spot.
“My mom did actually call me (Friday) night,” Brents said, laughing. “Everybody was getting on me because I wasn’t there, but they understand. The job is the job, so I gotta handle business.”
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) August 6, 2023
Steichen had no update on Jonathan Taylor, who remains on the PUP list as the Colts enter their third week of training camp. Veteran running back Kenyan Drake was signed Friday to bolster the backfield while Taylor and Zack Moss, who broke his arm last week, remain sidelined.
Drake, 29, started five games last year for the Baltimore Ravens and recorded four rushing touchdowns and one receiving score. He’s totaled 867 carries for 3,866 yards and notched 42 total touchdowns through his first seven seasons, which includes stints with the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders.
Drake received a few second-team reps in his first two Colts practices.
“I still love this game,” Drake said. “I want to go out here and prove that I can still be a valuable option for any team, and obviously being here now (in Indy), for this team.”
Julian Blackmon remains out with a hamstring jury, and although Rodney Thomas II was dressed for practice, he did not take part in many, if any, team drills. Steichen said he did not know what kept Thomas out and would need to talk to the trainers. Second-year pros Trevor Denbow and Nick Cross started at strong and free safety, respectively.
Mo Alie-Cox missed his second straight practice due to an ankle injury, but he did not wear a boot Sunday after wearing one Saturday. Liam Anderson (arm), Gernard Avery (undisclosed), DeForest Buckner (foot), Samson Ebukam (hamstring), Will Mallory (hamstring), Kenny Moore II (ankle) and Jelani Woods (hamstring) were sidelined as well.
(Top photo of Anthony Richardson: Mykal McEldowney / IndyStar / USA Today)
The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.