Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay wants to embrace running back Jonathan Taylor ‘as a Colt’

INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Irsay used his usual infomercial spot — the third quarter of a home preseason game on the local FOX59 broadcast — to sell the obvious.

He’s a big fan of Jonathan Taylor and Shaquille Leonard.

“You can’t help but talk about those two guys because they’re such difference-makers,’’ Irsay said Sunday evening as the Colts’ 24-17 win over the Chicago Bears was unfolding at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Trouble is, not only was neither player in the lineup, neither was at the stadium.

Taylor remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and was excused from training camp last week by the team for personal reasons. That was the latest occurrence in a tumultuous offseason for the Colts’ offensive catalyst, following the request for a contract extension (denied) and trade (denied), and deciding to continue to his rehab from January 25 surgery away from the team a few weeks ago.

Shane Steichen revealed after the game Taylor will return to the team Sunday, but has not been medically cleared to practice.

“As long as he’s cleared to play, he’ll be back,’’ Steichen said.

As it turns out, Leonard’s absence was due to being in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He suffered head trauma in Wednesday’s practice with the Bears.

“He should be back soon,’’ Shane Steichen said.

On a subject that has dominated the Colts’ preseason, Irsay offered an optimistic tone on the team’s impasse with Taylor, without offering any solutions.

“We’re excited to have Jonathan Taylor back,’’ he said. “I know these things are always difficult. I respect any time people are trying to fight for their position, for their families and all those things.’’

Taylor is in the final year of his rookie contract and due a base salary of $4.3 million. He undoubtedly is looking for a deal that better reflects what he’s accomplished during his first three seasons, highlighted by an NFL-leading and franchise-record 1,811 yards in 2021. That deal probably averages between $13-15 million per season.

“I’ve been around it so long, I just think the biggest thing that I preach is ‘OK, timing is everything,’’’ Irsay said. “We’re really looking forward to him playing his way into being the Jonathan Taylor he was and we’re really excited to have him. We want to do everything we can to support him and embrace him as a Colt because he’s a great young man. I can’t say enough about him and his family.

“Look, you have these problems. You never go in with no problems at all. These days, you hope you have less contractual problems because the way the CBA is. But you have them, and that’s (why) I know Chris Ballard is going to work hard on and try to get the waters as calm as they can and go forward.’’

Leonard is on the mend from a second back surgery in November and participated in the first 12 camp practices before suffering the concussion.

Again, Irsay was upbeat when talking about Taylor and Leonard. Two players who have combined for four first-team All-Pro selections finished a chaotic 2022 on the injured reserve list; Taylor with a high sprain to his right ankle and Leonard following his second back surgery in six months.

“Going into this year, to me it was about Jonathan Taylor and about Shaq Leonard,’’ Irsay said. “How will they get their health back? . . . not only are they playing great, but you can depend on them being there in a consistent way.

“We’re hoping we can have all our guns loaded, so to speak, and headed in the right direction.’’

Richardson held out

Four days after naming Anthony Richardson their starting quarterback, the Colts took the football out of his hands. He went through pregame warmups — casually throwing to receivers, tight ends and running backs — then spent the next three hours watching Gardner Minshew II and Sam Ehlinger work.

Steichen said the two joint practices against the Bears afforded Richardson the necessary work.

“I look at those like a legit game,’’ he said. “He got all those reps and a lot of starters played on both sides of the ball.’’

The Colts have a joint practice against the Eagles in Philadelphia Tuesday. They will then meet the Eagles in their preseason finale on Thursday.

Steichen seemed to indicate Richardson and some starters might play against the Eagles.

“Is it leaning towards possibly those guys playing in Philly?’’ he asked. “Absolutely, but I haven’t made that decision.’’

Richardson arrived at stadium wearing a jacket commemorating the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI win over the Bears.

Irsay on Richardson

Irsay has been bullish on Richardson from the moment the team selected him with the No. 4 overall pick in the April draft.

“If we had the first pick in the draft, we would have picked Anthony,’’ he said. “We felt that strong about him. I can’t emphasize enough the person that he is. You look this kid in the eye, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of kids through the years — Edgerrin (James), Reggie (Wayne), Dwight Freeney, Peyton (Manning), going way back to Bert Jones — and I’ll tell ya one thing, it gives you the chills. He’s special.’’

How special?

“To say he’s rare talent-wise is almost not enough,’’ Irsay said. “You have to say ‘never seen before.’ Those words are powerful. Unique.’’

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