Peyton Manning on rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson: ‘The more reps he gets, the better he’ll be’

INDIANAPOLIS — The Hall-of-Famer welcomed the neophyte to the club.

You know, that exclusive group of much-hyped lottery draft picks being installed as his team’s starting quarterback before he even knows his way around team headquarters.

Peyton Manning understands the trials and tribulations that await Anthony Richardson as a rookie and new face of the Indianapolis Colts.

Been there, endured and learned from that.

Manning texted Richardson shortly after Shane Steichen announced the No. 4 overall pick in the draft would lead the Colts into their Sept. 10 regular season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I congratulated him on the news and wished him the best of luck,’’ Manning told FOX59/CBS4. “I told him I was pulling for him hard. I can tell he’s got a great attitude and he’s going to work at it. I know Shane and (offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter) have worked with different quarterbacks. Shane coming off what he’s done with Jalen (Hurts) is a great blueprint.

“By no means would I think they’re doing this for any other reason than he’s earned the job and they can build the offense around him even though he’s young.’’

Then, Manning cut to the heart of the matter.

The more reps he’ll get, the better he’ll be.

Again, Manning traveled the road that stretches in front of Richardson.

He was the No. 1 overall pick in 1998 and viewed as the quarterback capable of leading the Colts out of the wilderness. They earned the top pick in the draft by finishing 3-13 in ’97.

Manning is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 and was recently named a professor of practice for the College of Communications and Information at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. His acumen was obvious when he first joined the Colts. He knew what to expect.

“As I’ve always said, when you’re a high pick in the NFL draft, that team’s probably earned that high pick,’’ Manning said with a laugh. “There’s going to be holes and there’s going to be some growing pains, but you keep going.’’

Stick with the rookie

The Colts’ brain trust — owner Jim Irsay, team president Bill Polian, coach Jim Mora, offensive coordinator Tom Moore and quarterbacks coach Bruce Arians — determined from the outset they would follow Manning’s lead. It was vital to his development and that of the team to grow as quickly as possible into the role of franchise quarterback.

The bottom line: the Colts finished 3-13 with their rookie QB in 1997, but that was expected.

“We knew, yeah,’’ Polian said. “We talked the whole thing through actually prior to drafting Peyton. We said, ‘If he’s in, he’s in the whole way. We’re not going to pull him. We’ll live with whatever happens’.

“If you start him and pull him, then you really set him back mentally and emotionally.’’

Starting Manning from day 1, Polian reiterated, “was a given. In for a dime, in for a dollar.’’

Manning embraced the challenge, which is the reason he supports the Colts’ decision to immediately turn to Richardson. He anticipates Steichen and the staff giving Richardson a reduced offensive package that accentuates his strengths, steers clear of his weaknesses and leans heavily on the running game. Protection also will be critical. Manning only was sacked 22 times as a rookie.

“I always appreciated that,’’ he said. “Obviously, I liked (starting right away).

“I struggled, but I figured some things out that I wouldn’t have figured out if I wasn’t playing.’’

Manning referenced a different path taken by his younger brother Eli. He spent the first nine games of his rookie year in 2004 watching Kurt Warner run the New York Giants’ offense. In week 10, the team turned to Eli.

“Eli said what he learned in those (games) was night and day to what he learned (standing) on the sideline, right?’’ Manning said. “There are different ways of doing it. (Patrick) Mahomes sat the whole year behind Alex Smith.

“I just think there are certain things that are hard to learn if you’re not in there, and the sooner you learn ‘em, the better. Sometimes you’ve got to learn them the hard way. I certainly did.’’

The Manning-led Colts lost 13 games — tied for most in the league. That was more than he had suffered in college and high school. He set NFL rookie records in completions (326), attempts (575), yards (3,739) and touchdowns (26). Those marks have been eclipsed, but his 28 interceptions remain a league rookie record.

“Lost a lot of games and threw a lot of interceptions,’’ Manning said. “But I don’t think we’re going 13-3 the next year and I’m making a Pro Bowl if I hadn’t played so much as a rookie.’’

He was able to experience first-hand the speed of the game, the incredible speed of 300-pound defensive linemen and the coverage skills of cornerbacks.

“The first games, golly, things were going 100 miles an hour and as a result, I was going 100 miles an hour, too,’’ Manning said. “My footwork was bad.

“Bill Polian always came to me before every game and said, ‘Hey, 33 rpms today. Hey, not slow motion, but just nice smooth footwork.’ Easier said than done, but the more you’re in there, the more you figure out how fast these guys are.’’

Manning was one of seven quarterbacks to start every game that season, and at the time, he joined Jeff George (1991) as the only Colt quarterback to start 16 games.

As difficult as the season was, Manning would take all 982 snaps.

“Jim Mora never told me he was never taking me out before the season or before each game,’’ he said. “At the end of the year, I realized I had played every play. I never took that for granted: ‘Hey, this is my job no matter what.’’’

The ‘quiet victories’

There were a few occasions when Manning’s performance warranted a place on the sideline.

He suffered three interceptions in three of his first four games and had at least two 11 times. In the Colts’ week 2 trip to New England, Manning contributed to a 29-0 deficit by delivering three interceptions. Ty Law got him twice and returned one 59 yards for a touchdown.

But Mora stuck with his rookie, and Manning made certain it would be a learning experience. He quickly grasped the idea there were no meaningless plays, even when the game is out of reach.

The first of his 539 career touchdowns — which are good for No. 3 all-time — came in his first start against Dan Marino and Miami. The Dolphins led, 24-9, but Manning hit Marvin Harrison with a 6-yard TD with 4 seconds remaining.

In week two and trailing 29-0 to the Patriots, he hooked up with Torrance Small for a 3-yard TD with 30 seconds remaining.

“Quiet victories,’’ he called them.

“There were some games when Jim Mora probably should have taken me out, right?’’ Manning said. “I think about up there in New England early in the season. Nobody would remember this and a lot of people would call it a meaningless drive or a garbage touchdown.

“I had thrown (three) interceptions in that game and somehow, someway we went down and drove for a touchdown. It was a situation where it meant nothing and he easily could have taken me out. But he kept me in there and you kind of figure out how not to throw a (fourth) interception.

“Everybody’s like, ‘This game’s over.’ The TV sets are off and (the Patriots) had definitely called the dogs off, but you learn from that.’’

The overriding point: Every rep matters.

“There’s just nothing like game reps, there really isn’t,’’ Manning said. “You can simulate in training camp and practice, but the more game reps you get, the more you figure out how much ground these guys can cover, how fast these d-linemen are . . . and the better off you’re going to be.

“I do feel like I improved each game that season even though it might not have shown up in the stats. I kind of filed everything away.’’

On a few occasions, those quiet victories were more fulfilling.

Manning led the Colts to the first of his 186 regular-season career wins — which are tied-No. 2 all-time with Brett Favre and trailing Tom Brady (251) — in week 5 against Ryan Leaf and the San Diego Chargers.

But the win that holds a special place in Manning’s heart occurred in week 11 against the New York Jets. The Colts trailed, 23-10, before Manning and Harrison collaborated for a 38-yard touchdown.

Then, magic. On fourth-and-15 with just over 2 minutes remaining, Marshall Faulk converted by taking a Manning screen 18 yards. Nine plays later, Manning delivered a laser down the seam to Marcus Pollard for a 14-yard TD with 30 seconds remaining for a 24-23 victory. It was the first of Manning’s 54 fourth-quarter, game-winning drives.

“I was high-stepping into the end zone to high-five Marcus,’’ he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever done that.’’

If there was a line of demarcation in Manning’s accelerated rookie development, it was a week 7 trip to San Francisco. The Colts lost, 34-31, but it took a couple of questionable calls by the officials — the NFL publicly admitted the mistakes the next week — to avert the upset.

Manning was figuring it out. He caught the eye of 49ers’ quarterback Steve Young by completing 18-of-30 passes for 231 yards and three TDs.

“I remember after the game Steve Young just telling me he knew it had been a struggle,’’ he said. “He said, ‘Hey, the game’s going to slow down for you.’

“But even in that game before he told me that, things did slow down. You see things a little more clearly.’’

Reps. Get as many as possible as soon as possible.

“Every case is so different, so unique,’’ Manning said. “But playing right away really helped me. Jim Mora stuck with me every game, and I kind of figured out some things in some of those fourth quarters even in some of those games we weren’t even in.

“The more reps Anthony gets, the better he’ll be. I truly believe that.’’

Different situations

Polian is in lockstep with Manning.

Richardson, he said, “needs to play. They’re doing the right thing.’’

But Polian is struck by the contrasting situations.

Manning was an All-America who won 39 of 45 starts at Tennessee.

Richardson started 13 games at Florida. He turned 21 in May.

“Peyton had played enough college football to where he was capable of handling the basic job of a starting quarterback in the NFL,’’ Polian said. “He knew how to prepare. He knew how to digest the game plan. He knew how to get the team in and out of the huddle. He knew how to call plays. He learned all of that stuff in college.’’

Starting Richardson, he added, “makes sense on every level, but it’s ironic that Peyton had all of the experience so we were able to play him and this kid doesn’t have any (experience) but he needs to play.

“I don’t think he learns anything sitting on the bench.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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