ANDERSON — Trent Richardson looks around training camp and sees a world full of opportunities.
He has the full support of Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and big believers in Chuck Pagano, Andrew Luck and his offensive linemen.
The path to playing time is clearing up, too, with Donald Brown off to San Diego and Vick Ballard out with a second straight season-ending injury. That leaves Ahmad Bradshaw, who is coming back from October neck surgery, and Richardson as the only proven running backs on the roster.
So Richardson will get a second chance to get back to his old, productive ways.
“When you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do or what your plan B is and you just have your mind set on plan A, you lose a lot of instincts,” Richardson said, explaining what went wrong in 2013. “I don’t think I lost my instincts, but I was so focused on being coached and playing like I was being coached when all you want to do is exactly what the coach says.”
Richardson played the game by the book, and the result was downright ugly.
After the blockbuster September trade that sent him from Cleveland to Indianapolis, Richardson looked robotic and indecisive. He carried just 31 times for 105 yards in his first two games, with Cleveland, then finished the season averaging 2.9 yards, scoring four total touchdowns in 13 games with the Colts. He lost the starting job to Brown.
The struggles went far deeper than mere numbers.
As Richardson spent much of the season working overtime to learn his third NFL offense in less than two years, he never quite got the timing down with his new teammates. Plus, he had a shoulder injury and played behind an offensive line that used six different starting lineups over the final six games of the regular season.
It was a recipe for disaster.
But anxious fans didn’t want excuses. They booed and grumbled publicly about the cost for Richardson, a first-round draft pick, and continually wondered if Richardson would come close to emerging as the back Cleveland envisioned when it drafted him No. 3 overall in 2012 – behind Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Grigson still has faith all this will work out.
“Trent’s in a great place right now. He’s working his tail off,” he said before May’s draft. “We expect big things out of him and everyone else at every position if we’re going to win a Super Bowl.”
Pagano is just starting to see how much progress Richardson has made.
For the first time since camp opened last week, Richardson was on the practice field in shoulder pads. And though he didn’t take anywhere near the normal number of snaps, his return coincided with Pagano’s plea for his injured veterans to get back on the field.
“They need to start playing football. They need to get their helmets on, their shoulder pads on, and the full pads on, thigh pads, knee pads. And they need to get in the huddle,” Pagano said after Wednesday’s morning walkthrough. “They need to start communicating with their teammates and like I said, playing football.”
Richardson’s teammates believe he will rebound.
“He’s a great running back, a great runner,” right tackle Gosder Cherilus said. “He has a good feel for the running game, and he’s always trying to find the right hole. You put him one-on-one with someone and he’ll make that first guy miss. It’s our job to keep the other guys off of him.”
For Richardson, this will be the critical test.
Two years ago, the Alabama star was considered the best back in the draft and a cornerstone for Cleveland’s rebuilding project. Now, after being relabeled a possible draft bust and with a potential contract extension looming after the season, Richardson has a chance to jump-start his career.
All he has to do now is prove he can take advantage of this second chance.
“Everything went well (in the offseason),” Richardson said. “I’m just happy to be out here, get ready for the team and try to be a guy that steps up every game and be one of those confident players.”
Notes: Left guard Donald Thomas may have reinjured his right quad during Wednesday’s practice. Thomas missed all but two games last season with a torn right quad. A person close to the situation said the Colts are checking the right quad, though a full diagnosis has not yet been made. … Receiver T.Y. Hilton missed the end of practice with a jammed finger on his right hand. ... Tight end Dwayne Allen, safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Vontae Davis all sat out practice, too, for precautionary reasons.