Does Colts rookie QB Anthony Richardson need to protect himself better?

Trevor Lawrence spoke with Anthony Richardson after the JaguarsColts regular-season opener, a 31-21 road victory for Jacksonville. Lawrence was impressed with the No. 4 overall pick — “He made some unbelievable plays,” he said — but the image that he and others were left with was Richardson being sidelined for Indianapolis’ final three offensive snaps of the game. 

On a first-and-goal scramble with 1:06 remaining, Richardson lowered his shoulders and took a big hit from Jaguars safety Andre Cisco. With trainers around the QB, he was slow to get up. Backup Gardner Minshew finished the game for the Colts (1-1). 

“The hits add up in this league, and they are a little different than in college,” Lawrence said postgame, “so I just told him to protect himself. I’m excited to watch his career unfold. I think he’s going to be a great player and obviously we’ll see him again later in the season, but that was my only message to him, really, protect yourself.”

Just two games into his NFL career, Richardson is learning the delicate balance of aggression and protecting his body. 

It wasn’t just the season opener. He suffered a concussion in the Colts’ victory over the Texans on Sunday, believed to have occurred when his head slammed against the turf after a big hit from safety M.J. Stewart as Richardson reached the end zone on his second rushing touchdown. He played two more series before self-reporting symptoms and sitting out the rest of the game. 

Richardson’s status is in doubt for Sunday at Baltimore (2-0). He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday as he works through the NFL’s concussion protocol. 

Two weeks, two health concerns. 

There are certainly plays where Richardson could have protected himself. Instead of lowering his shoulder on the play that knocked him out of the Jaguars game, the wise move would have been to slide. On the play in question against the Texans, he slowed up and didn’t properly brace for Stewart’s hit, though it’s possible he didn’t see the Houston defender until the last second. 

“This league comes at you fast and those guys are on you a little bit quicker, you know?” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said Tuesday. “But just tightening up his understanding of how fast those defenders are and how fast they close and sort of making sure we finish through things the right way for the team.”

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But there are also several moments where Richardson has made the correct business decision. 

Like early in the second quarter of Week 1 against Jacksonville, with Indianapolis facing a first-and-10 at the Jaguars’ 25. He executed a designed run to the left, and with Cisco quickly closing downhill, Richardson took the three yards he could get before going out of bounds. The next possession, on a first-and-10 in plus territory at the Jaguars’ 48, he scrambled to the right side and again got what he could get, four yards, before safety Rayshawn Jenkins could close in. Richardson did something similar early in the first quarter of the Houston game last weekend. 

But it’s a line the rookie QB will continue to learn to toe — when to use his 6-foot-4, 244-pound frame to get extra yards and when to get down — as a quarterback who embraces physicality. 

That’s the thing about playing football, too: Getting hit is inevitable. 

“It’s the nature of the beast,” Colts coach Shane Steichen said Monday. “Again, it takes time. A young player learning when to be smart, getting down and knowing when you’re going to take the hit and having good vision and all those different things.”

But Richardson’s physicality is also something the Colts must understand about their hopeful franchise quarterback; how and when they should adjust accordingly. Because Richardson will do whatever it takes to win. 

In the Jaguars game, the play prior to when he got shaken up, the Colts faced a fourth-and-5 at the Jacksonville 8 with 1:28 remaining and trailing by 10. Richardson dropped back, and with nothing he liked in the pass game, he tucked the ball, took off and lowered his shoulder, colliding with two defenders en route to a first down. 

“Fourth-and-5, got-to-have-it situation so you have to put your body on the line for the team, because I know they would do it for me,” Richardson said postgame. “You got to risk it sometimes just to help the team.”

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That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hear Lawrence’s advice, though. 

“It depends on the situation, time on the clock, score, all that,” Richardson said last week when asked if he needs to protect himself more. “But as a quarterback in this league, you do have to protect yourself a lot if you want to … stay in this league. 

“He’s definitely right by telling me that, and I definitely took it into account.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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