Colts QB Anthony Richardson on seeking a mental edge: 'The game isn't always physical'

INDIANAPOLIS – Veteran cornerback Kenny Moore II walked into the Indianapolis Colts’ training facility on a recent morning, and what he saw immediately resonated.

There was rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, poring over his meticulous meeting notes as he prepared for the day of work ahead. Richardson, at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, is renowned for his imposing size and unique physical abilities. But it was this quiet moment, far from the football field, that left a distinct impression with Moore.

“He wants it,” Moore said. “And I think as a teammate, if you see another teammate who wants it -- he wants to work hard and he wants to be consistent and he does it each day -- you give him all the respect.”

Richardson is still finding his way, less than two months after the Colts made him the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft. On Tuesday, the first day of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp, Richardson wasn’t particularly sharp. His footwork failed him at times, leading to some inaccurate throws. Even when he was on point, things didn’t go so well. His best pass of the day -- a beautiful deep post to tight end Mo Alie-Cox -- was dropped.

But Richardson’s story isn’t going to be written in June of his rookie season. The Colts intend for him to be their franchise quarterback for years to come.

And Richardson is demonstrating he knows what it will take to make that possible. Despite all the celebration of his physical feats, Richardson is appropriately focused on the mental aspects of the game.

“My position, and the light that I’m in, I can’t do the bare minimum,” Richardson said of his preparation. “The team would not allow that, I would not allow that for myself. I know the GM (Chris Ballard), coach (Shane Steichen) and the owner (Jim Irsay) definitely don’t want that from me.

“It’s just a matter of me putting the work in. I’m not just doing it for show. I actually want to learn this information, know this information for the team, because I don’t want to get thrown out there and I’m lost, and the team is like, ‘Why is this dude out there?’ I just want to make sure I’m on point with everything.”

It's a sound approach. The transition to competing against NFL talent is difficult enough for rookies. Richardson recalled an experience from his first week squaring off with the veterans last month when offseason practices got underway.

“It was way different from rookie minicamp,” he said. “I just see guys flying around. I pulled the ball [and ran] on a zone read one time, and the [defensive] end was chasing me. He was like right next to me. I'm like, ‘OK, this is different.’ It was definitely going fast.”

Richardson might have rare physical gifts, but he’s learning that’s also true of many NFL players. Having a physical edge alone is not always going to be enough, Richardson said. He seems to understand the importance of gaining a mental edge, too.

“God blessed me with that, and I’m thankful, but the game isn’t always physical,” he said. “Like I said earlier, we’re playing against pros. Those guys are physically gifted as well. Everybody is running 4.4s, 4.5s, 4.6s [40-yard dashes]. Just because I’m fast doesn’t mean I can just run around people, because they’re fast as well. I just want to get mentally better every day and go out there and play quarterback, and not just be a freak athlete that knows how to throw the ball far.”

That’s a very self-aware statement for a 21-year-old rookie. But he’s right. Sure, Richardson turned the NFL scouting combine earlier this year into a personal highlight reel, establishing a quarterback record in the vertical jump (40.5 inches) and running one of the fastest 40-yard dashes at his position in recent years (4.43 seconds).

But his vertical jump won’t help him know where his check-down options are or how to adjust pass protections at the line of scrimmage. Those are the things that come largely from mastery of the playbook.

As Irsay said after the draft, “we’re not drafting Olympic athletes. We’re drafting football players.” The Colts’ view, Irsay said, was that Richardson could develop into the “whole package,” which was what truly prompted the pick.

That starts with days like Tuesday, uneven as it might have been.

“You have to learn from mistakes,” Richardson said. “I’m consistently trying to get information, learn from my mistakes just so I can do my job the best I can for the team.”

For all the talk about work ethic in the NFL, it is demonstrated through actions and not words. That’s what has sold veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew.

“It’s been cool to see him,” Minshew said. “He studies hard, he picks it up, he wants to learn. He’s been doing a great job.”

And when delving into the playbook isn’t enough, Richardson apparently besieges his coaches with questions.

“I’m like, ‘OK, what’s this? Coach, how does this relate to this? What happens if they do this?’” he said. “Just getting information and taking it in. I just love it.”

All of it is part of Richardson’s quest to become the complete quarterback -- one who can excel both physically and mentally.