INDIANAPOLIS – One of the least surprising free-agent signings during the offseason reunited a coordinator-turned-head coach with a veteran who had been his backup quarterback for the past two seasons and most assuredly would remain in that role at their new NFL location.
Shane Steichen endorsed a reunion with Gardner Minshew II, his Philadelphia Eagles compadre, as he was settling in as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach in February. He got his wish in mid-March when Chris Ballard signed Minshew to a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
Minshew was that invaluable commodity in the position. In four seasons – two with Jacksonville, two in Philly – he appeared in 32 games, with 24 starts.
The Colts weren’t looking for a veteran starter after their dizzying, unfulfilling quarterback carousel ride the past four seasons. The offseason was all about finding their quarterback of the future, and they got their man – Anthony Richardson – with the No. 4 overall pick in the April draft.
With Richardson destined to handle the bulk of the first-team reps – he needed every rep possible after starting just 13 games at Florida, and officially was named the team’s starter on Aug. 15 – the veteran backup had to be capable of stepping in with limited – or no – work with the 1s.
“Anytime you have a backup quarterback, I think one of the big things for myself personally that I look at is, can a guy come in and play on limited reps throughout the week and be prepared the way he does?’’ Steichen said Wednesday.
Exhibit A: Last Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Richardson suffered a concussion on his 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, self-reported symptoms after two subsequent drives and was yanked from the game. Minshew pulled on his helmet, warmed up his right arm and directed the offense to consecutive second-quarter touchdown drives.
He did so after running the scout team during practice that week.
“You get zero reps through the week,’’ he admitted after the Colts’ 31-20 victory over the Texans. “So, you just got to take mental reps when you can, study when you can, know the film and just go in and play ball.’’
“That’s what he does,’’ Steichen said. “That’s the type of guy he is. It’s huge to have him. I mean, big time to have him. Obviously, you guys saw what he did on Sunday.’’
Everyone might see it again when the Colts visit the Ravens Sunday in Baltimore.
Richardson and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly are in the NFL’s concussion protocol and as is often the case, didn’t practice Wednesday. Each could progress through protocol, practice on a limited basis Thursday, come back and practice Friday, be cleared by the team’s medical staff and an independent neurologist, and be available against the Ravens.
Or, Richardson could miss the Ravens game. He was a spectator at Wednesday’s practice, but that offered no indication of his well-being.
“He’s in a good spot,’’ Steichen said of his talks with Richardson. “I’ll keep those conversations private, but he’s in a good spot.’’
So, too, is Minshew if he’s pressed into his 25th career start.
At the very least, he’ll have one full practice with the first unit. The value of that can’t be overstated.
“It’s definitely a benefit,’’ Steichen said. “Obviously the timing with the receivers, the offensive line, the protection calls . . . all those different things definitely benefits going with the 1s in practice. To get reps with the 1s today will be good for him.’’
“You just get a little tighter with the communication with the guys, get a little more reps, time on task,’’ he said. “But you know, I feel really good about how the coaching staff prepares us and always feel ready to go.’’
Minshew has quickly gained the trust of the locker room.
“He’s just a genuine guy, a leader, and he just loves ball,’’ Wide Receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “When you get guys like that, I mean, you could play with anybody. He just loves it. Every single time he’s in there, he’s juiced up and he’s ready to play.’’
Linebacker Zaire Franklin has noticed.
“I just think Gardner loves ball,’’ he said. “I think he just loves the guys. I mean, he’s the type of guy who could sit in the cafeteria and talk about schemes and offensive philosophy for hours. Obviously we know he approaches his work with full seriousness and competitiveness. You know he was preparing for a moment like this, too. So, we know he’s going to go out there ready to go.’’
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh conceded it will be a challenge this week for his defense not knowing whether it will face Richardson or Minshew.
“Different quarterbacks, for sure,’’ he said.
Steichen also must prepare for the unknown since he might not know Richardson’s status until Saturday. Minshew simply doesn’t possess the same game-breaking skills – running and passing – as does the rookie.
“Obviously he’s getting the reps today, so we’ll streamline it towards him in practice,’’ he said.
Minshew, the starter
Minshew has started 24 games in his five-year career, but only four the past two seasons after the Eagles acquired him in a trade with Jacksonville in August 2021. The Jaguars selected him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft and he was 7-13 as a starter in two seasons, but they deemed him expendable after drafting Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall in 2021.
In his 24 starts, Minshew has led teams to an 8-16 record by completing 526-of-844 passes (62.3%) for 5,987 yards with 40 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 93.0 passer rating.
He lost both of his starts with the Eagles in 2022 (40-34 at Dallas, 20-10 against New Orleans) and was 1-1 in ’21 with a 51-26 loss to the Cowboys and a 33-18 win over the New York Jets.
For those keeping track, Minshew is 1-10 in his last 11 starts.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.