INDIANAPOLIS – There never really was any doubt after what needed to be a transformational April 27 evening.
This was and will be Anthony Richardson’s team. The Indianapolis Colts invested the No. 4 overall pick in the draft on a raw but electric quarterback for a reason.
Wednesday’s announcement Richardson will have season-ending surgery to repair a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder simply delays reality.
The new reality: This is Gardner Minshew II’s team for the rest of the season.
As numbing as the news was – Richardson’s rookie season consisted of four starts and 173 snaps, but was interrupted by a bruised knee, concussion and the shoulder injury – it provides clarity to Shane Steichen and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter for the final 11 games.
Richardson is expected to make a full recovery and should be ready for next spring, but he’s out of the on-field picture the remainder of the season.
“It gives you clarity,’’ Steichen said. “This is Gardner’s team and we’ve got a ton of confidence in Gardner and his abilities moving forward.’’
Initially, players must deal with losing a player of Richardson’s ilk and presence. His accelerated growth made so much possible.
Exhibit A: week 4 against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Colts fell behind 23-0 midway through the third quarter but followed Richardson’s lead to 23-all with 1:56 remaining. They lost in overtime 29-23 when Matthew Stafford led the Rams on a touchdown drive to open OT. Richardson never had an opportunity to answer.
“I mean, just being down 23-nothing and see him have the guys rally around him,’’ running back Jonathan Taylor said. “That’s what you want out of a leader. To have him have that trait this young is very special.
“And I’m sure he’s going to continue to develop and grow on that.’’
Now, that growth will resume next offseason.
Now, the Colts follow Minshew’s lead.
“Yeah, honestly my heart goes out to AR first and foremost,’’ he said. “The dude has done nothing but learn and get better, lead the guys since he’s been here. Obviously, losing him is definitely a different feel without him. He brought a lot of energy, a lot of juice. We’re going to miss him.
“That being said, we’re 3-3 right now, excited for the opportunity ahead of us. (We) have everything we want in front of us, so just go out and try to win one game at a time.’’
That starts with Sunday’s meeting with the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Does it change Minshew’s approach knowing Richardson isn’t returning? He was extremely efficient coming off the bench for Richardson at Houston and against the Tennessee Titans but had rough spots as a starter in the overtime win at Baltimore and last Sunday’s loss at Jacksonville.
“I don’t think so,’’ he insisted. “You’ve just gotta prepare one game at a time, go try to win one week at a time.
“It’s really all we can do.’’
Taylor, Minshew and linebacker Zaire Franklin are among teammates who have reached out to Richardson.
Their message: We’re here if/when you need us.
“. . . when rookies kind of go down, they’re just getting started, they just took a huge step, they made it into the league, eyes are wide and they’re just trying to find their way,’’ Taylor said. “When they get hit with adversity like that very quickly, it sucks. It sucks.
“Definitely been reaching out to AR and just not sending my condolences, but just sending, ‘Hey’ I’m here for you. Anything you need. You have to stay strong through this process. I know it’s not how you envisioned your first year going, but this is part of the process so you have ot attack it every single day.’’
Franklin shook his head.
“Man, honestly I know it’s extremely disappointing for him, extremely disappointing for me, for the fans,’’ he said. “He’s just an extremely special player. It was exciting to just to watch him from our sidelines. We had the closest view of him, and just watching him continue to grow and progress as a leader and a player, it was just something to see.
“It’s just a minor setback for a major story. I told him ‘Just take this time to really focus on learning the offense, understanding the game, learning the game, getting your body right, getting your mind right and really just being able to attack the next opportunity (with) a full head of steam.’’
Center Ryan Kelly has worked closely with Richardson and Minshew. In fact, he’s worked closely with 11 starting quarterbacks since being selected in the first round of the 2016 draft.
The difficult lesson he’s learned: injuries and resulting change are inevitable.
“Yeah, it sucks,’’ Kelly said. “Injuries happen in this game. It’s kind of something you just learn to deal with. Every season is going to have its curveballs. You’ve just gotta control what you can control in your life.
“I’m sure it was the right decision (on Richardson). Certainly a young guy like that, early in your career. I know the training staff will get him back. Just the competitor he is, he’ll work his butt off to get back.’’
From the outset, the overriding priority with Richardson was getting him as many quality repetitions as possible. Again, he started only 13 games in college.
While his season was curtailed, there’s no discounting the experience he absorbed.
“I know it’s probably different if he missed the entire season, never had a snap,’’ Kelly said. “But I think he got a little taste of what he can do . . . the momentum he was building up through the year.
“It sucks for him just early in your career to have an injury like that. It can be kind of lonely. I know the guys in there and the rest of the team will rally around him.’’
They’ll also rally around Minshew, and if needed, backup Sam Ehlinger.
“Said it after the (Jacksonville loss) and I’ve been saying it since April,’’ Kelly said. “I think Gardner has done an incredible job just preparing. The level of a true professional is preparing because you don’t know when your number’s going to get called.’’
Stewart will be missed
The Colts will be without defensive tackle Grover Stewart for the next six games after he was suspended by the NFL Tuesday for violating its performance-enhancing substance policy.
The suspension will cost Stewart $3.95 million of his $9.285 million base salary as well as the potential to earn another $2.04 million from a $340,000 per-game roster bonus.
“When it rains, it pours,’’ Franklin said. “Big Grove, man, he’s a great person, a great human. I know he would never ever do anything to try to cheat the game, anything like that. He’s nothing like that.
“Just unfortunate the situation that he’s in. Definitely going to hurt us not having him out there. I’ve said it plenty of times what him and Buck (DeForest Buckner) have been for not only to my not only to my success, but to the team’s. He’ll definitely be sorely missed.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.