WESTFIELD, Ind. – Bryce Young was still a wide-eyed middle schooler when a trip to a football camp at Texas Tech yielded an unexpected result.
The NFL’s 2023 first overall draft pick was just an eighth-grader at the time, but he famously departed Lubbock with a scholarship offer from Kliff Kingsbury, who was then the Red Raiders’ head coach.
It’s not a story totally unique to Young, either. The development of today’s young quarterbacks is trending younger all the time, with the proliferation of quarterback camps and with private quarterback coaching now common among elite high school passers.
And then there is Anthony Richardson.
The Indianapolis Colts’ first-round pick and potential franchise quarterback has ascended to the highest level of quarterbacking without the advantages that have assisted in the growth of so many of his peers.
“Everybody has their own journey,” Richardson said. “Shout out to those guys for getting those resources and grabbing them. But I didn’t know much about all that. I was just playing football because I love playing football. I didn’t even know there were camps and all these technicians.”
Combine that with the fact that Richardson started for just a single college season at Florida, and the contrast between his path and that of some other young quarterbacks comes into sharper focus.
Put simply, Richardson’s starting point is different because his formative years as a quarterback have also been different. But there’s a flip side to this: It also means that, moving forward, Richardson’s capacity for rapid growth is significant.
“He wasn’t in position to do all those things. He’s a kid that comes from nothing, really,” said Richardson’s business manager Vernell Brown, who has known him since adolescence and was on Florida’s staff during Richardson’s time in Gainesville.
“He was just out there doing it because he loved football. He wasn’t a kid doing it just to do it. And he didn’t do it for recruiting. He didn’t do it for any of that. He did it because he loved the game. Now, you take that kid who’s also a super smart kid, and it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. And I think it’s going to happen a lot sooner than a lot of people think.”
Richardson’s journey is even more unique considering he was initially a wide receiver at Gainesville’s Eastside High School until coach Cedderick Daniels recognized his playmaking pass-catcher might be better under center.
“He was probably the most dynamic kid we had on offense,” said Daniels, who now coaches at nearby Hawthorne. “So, for me, it was, like, ‘He’s the best receiver we have at the time, so I probably need to put him at receiver.’ I had a kid who could throw it and get him the ball. And, then, in the second half, if we needed a spark, we could put [Richardson] at quarterback and he could come in and create.”
Richardson first made the move on a permanent basis as a sophomore and took nicely to the new role. But Daniels intentionally kept things simple for Richardson, deploying him in a dual-threat, Cam Newton-like role that emphasized Richardson’s speed and strength rather than some sophisticated scheme.
“The way we approach it,” Daniels said, “is to hone in on the basics.”
In one sense, that might be construed as a negative given the volume of concepts and schemes Richardson will need to master in Indianapolis. But Daniels makes a compelling counterargument that any bad habits Richardson might have aren't as ingrained as some who have been playing the position since elementary school.
Of course, none of this would matter if Richardson were not diligent in his preparation. But the initial takeaways from Colts training camp indicate this is not an issue.
“I’ve been really impressed with him,” guard Quenton Nelson said. “The way he's coming into the building every day and just his work ethic and his poise in the huddle -- for a rookie -- has impressed me a lot. The growth I've seen from [offseason workouts] until now, you could tell that in the offseason time, he was at home, he was studying, he was working on calling the plays in the huddle. I'm really happy with where he is at right now.”
Center Ryan Kelly, who has worked with a parade of starting quarterbacks in his seven seasons in Indianapolis, called Richardson’s transformation heading into training camp “very noticeable.”
Kelly added, “Whether it’s just being able to verbalize the calls in the huddle or seeing checks or feeling pressures, I'd say the overall game management is really improved. ... He’s done an incredible job.”
That is not to say the path has been linear for Richardson. At times, the inconsistency he displayed at Florida has shown up in Indianapolis, too. He has sometimes followed impressive practices with disappointing ones, like Thursday’s erratic day (completing 5 of 12 passes in 11-on-11 work). That came on the heels of Richardson lighting up the Colts' defense in recent days.
On Saturday, in the Colts’ preseason opener, Richardson got the start, and after throwing an interception on his third pass attempt, Richardson went on to lead two lengthy drives to close out his one quarter of play. He finished 7-of-12 for 67 yards. It was enough for Richardson to be named the opening-day starter on Tuesday.
The adjustment to the NFL, Richardson said, “is a gauntlet. They tell me I’m doing a good job, but I always expect a little more out of myself.”
But the truth is Richardson was and is a raw prospect. It was the biggest question about him during the pre-draft process, and he’ll need to continue to prove he can be the player the Colts project him to become.
His coaches are asking him to do things he’s not accustomed to. One example: calling audibles at the line of scrimmage to respond to defensive adjustments.
“A lot of things are new in his world, and we’ve got to go get the reps on them to see if we can get better at it,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said.
Richardson is doing his best to make up for lost time, becoming a pupil of private quarterback coaches like Will Hewlett and Denny Thompson in northeast Florida (the pair has worked with Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew and Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers). Those efforts, combined with the extra studying he’s investing in his playbook and the demanding coaching he’s receiving, are accelerating Richardson’s development.
For Richardson, everything right now is an education. With reporters waiting for his weekly update after a recent practice, Richardson was delayed in stepping up to the microphone. He was still on the field, discussing some of the day’s action with teammates and coaches.
A tiny tweak here or there might go a long way, Richardson is learning. It’s all a part of expanding the young quarterback's football horizons.
“Honestly,” he said, “the game is starting to slow down for me.”