INDIANAPOLIS – Cue Carly Simon.
Anticipation . . .
That wasn’t the musical backdrop in the locker room Wednesday – there’s always a strong rap/hip-hop theme – but players’ eyes lit up a bit when considering the possibilities when Jonathan Taylor and Anthony Richardson finally share the same backfield.
It could be as soon as Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts entertain the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Taylor practiced for the first time since Dec. 15, albeit in a walkthrough setting as Shane Steichen took into consideration his team coming off consecutive overtime games. It’s possible the NFL’s 2021 rushing champion is added to the active roster in time for Sunday even though he’ll only have had two full practices.
“Obviously he’s been around it,’’ Steichen said of Taylor’s mental involvement with the offense during the offseason and training camp even though he didn’t practice because of his protracted rehab from Jan. 26 surgery on his right ankle. “You sign players on Wednesday that start on Sunday. So, feel good about his mental.’’
That’s the reason for the optimistic vibes in the locker room.
Owner Jim Irsay set the bar for expectations in April – how high is up? – after his Colts invested the No. 4 overall pick in the draft on Richardson, the uber-talented quarterback, to pair with Taylor, the uber-talented running back.
“We’re hoping to create the perfect storm,’’ he said.
Finally, that storm is rolling toward Indy, and no one’s making an effort to hide his rising anticipation.
“I’m excited just for him being able to come back on the field,’’ Richardson said. “I know it’s been a while for him being on the field. I know he’s excited to be back and I’m excited to see what he does with me.’’
Despite missing roughly a game-and-a-half with a concussion and bruised knee, Richardson has delivered on his hype. He’s the first rookie quarterback in NFL history with four rushing touchdowns in his first three games and the first in franchise history with a rushing TD in three consecutive games.
Richardson has generated three of the team’s 12 longest runs: 18- and 15-yard TDs at Houston, and a 23-yard run against the Rams.
Imagine the stress he and Taylor will apply to a defense when they approach the perimeter.
“I know he’s a great player and I know I can do some things pretty well,’’ he said. “Just trying to combine those two things, I can only imagine what it’s like. But we won’t see until it actually happens. We’ll see, and I’m excited.’’
Linebacker Zaire Franklin has sparred with Taylor in practice the past two seasons.
“JT makes me better. I always tell him that,’’ he said. “Iron sharpens iron. There’s no better player in the league to get better and compete against every day.’’
Franklin has a deep appreciation for Taylor’s unique skillset. He’s watched it firsthand. The:
*26 rushes that have chewed up at least 20 yards, including nine that have gained at least 40 yards.
*touchdown runs of 78, 67, 66 and 62 yards, receiving TDs that covered 76 and 39 yards.
*non-scoring runs of 83 and 56 yards.
*135 of 756 rushing attempts that have picked up at least 10 yards. That’s 17.9% of his carries.
“His talent level is just understood,’’ Franklin said. “It’s not even about what I think. It’s about what he’s put on tape in real games. He is who he is.’’
Franklin also has allowed himself to imagine a Richardson/Taylor pairing.
“I dream about it,’’ he said, his eyes glistening. “I can’t wait to see it. I’m looking forward to it.’’
That tandem, it was mentioned to him, potentially is a nightmare for opposing defenses.
“That’s their issue, not mine,’’ Franklin laughed.
Once he’s activated, Taylor at least initially will share reps with Zack Moss, the team’s leading rusher with 280 yards in three games.
Steichen repeatedly mentioned the coaching staff will determine Taylor’s readiness after watching how he handles practice.
“We’ll see how practice goes,’’ he said.
Also, Richardson and Taylor must quickly gain confidence in the ball-exchange on handoffs, especially with the deceptive RPO plays.
“I don’t think it takes too long,’’ Richardson said. “It’s pretty simple just handing the ball off, knowing where to step. It’s also learning the running back, also learning how he wants the ball given to him, how he wants passes thrown to him. Maybe a couple of days. Maybe.’’
Steichen evaluated game video of Taylor in the offseason while getting to know the roster he inherited. Big-play potential can have a dramatic impact on any offense.
“It’s huge,’’ he said. “When you have an explosive player like him in the backfield that can hit homeruns, obviously you might get heavier boxes with him running the football. Then it leaves some shots down the field depending on how defenses are playing it. It definitely adds a huge element to our offense.’’
It only makes sense that chunk plays – 10-plus yard rushes, 20-plus yard completions – lead to more production.
“You create explosive plays, your percentage of scoring goes way up,’’ Steichen said. “Shoot, when we started hitting those chunk plays last week, we started scoring points.’’
Steichen has talked with Taylor about returning after what’s been roughly four dysfunctional months with the team.
Taylor complained of lingering pain in his right ankle which resulted in him missing the entirety of the offseason work and training camp. He was placed on the reserve-physically unable to perform list Aug. 29, which forced him to miss the first four games of the season.
Intertwined was a desire to get a contract extension; that request being denied; a trade request initially being denied, then allowing Taylor to find a trade partner; a trade not developing; and finally Taylor passing his physical and practicing.
“I had good conversations with him,’’ Steichen said. “And this stuff happens, right? This stuff happens in football, happens all around the league. But to have him back, ready to go and practicing with the team, it’s going to be good to see.’’
Franklin was asked if Taylor had been embraced by his teammates following the months of discontent. Taylor clearly wanted to sever ties with the franchise with his trade demand.
“To be honest with you, outside says a whole lot of things,’’ Franklin said. “Before the season, they told us we might not win a game. And now everybody’s, ‘Oh, they might win the division.’ That narrative changes. We love JT. We care about him, even more than a player, but as a person. His family, his wife, all that stuff. It’s deeper than that.
“Obviously, we know that he’s got things going on, but we’re here to support him any way we can. Sometimes this game and the business . . . what you actually want to do sometimes could be on different sides of what you have to do to get what you need.
“Looking forward to having him back. Need him. Always love to have him around. Like I said, that’s my guy. Jersey boy.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.