JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Week 1 of the NFL season is here, and the Jaguars start off the season with an AFC South divisional matchup. The Jaguars will travel to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday for the season opener against one of their biggest rivals in the Colts.
The Colts and Jaguars have a lengthy head-to-head history. Indianapolis leads the series 27-17; but recently, the Jaguars have won nine of the last 15 meetings.
The Jaguars hope to do big things this season and it starts with the first of two matchups against one of their biggest rivals. Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson went 1-1 against the Colts last year in his first season in Jacksonville.
While the Colts are a familiar team for the Jaguars, they will look a little different this year and it starts at the top with a new head coach.
Back in February, the Colts hired Shane Steichen to be the guy to turn things around. Steichen was previously the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles the past two years, helping develop quarterback Jalen Hurts into one of the best young talents in the league, and leading the team all the way to the Super Bowl last season.
Steichen is hoping to follow that mold and do similar things with the Colts No. 4 overall pick, rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson out of Florida.
Steichen has already announced that Richardson will be getting the start at quarterback for the first game of the regular season. Richardson beat out former Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew and Sam Ehlinger for the starting job. The Colts have not had consistency at the quarterback position since Andrew Luck retired, and they hope that Richardson can be the long-term answer.
On Monday, Steichen talked about the potential game plan for Jacksonville and how he wants to use Richardson’s skills on Sunday.
“We want to do stuff that he’s good at, stuff that we have reps at through training camp, and then we go from there,” Steichen said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of intricacies into a game plan each and every week. There’s different front structures and different coverages.”
Steichen is expecting some growing pains for his rookie quarterback, but he believes the biggest challenge Richardson will face on Sunday is the “unknown.”
“You are going to get some looks that you probably haven’t seen on tape, you’re going against new bodies, new personnel. I think a lot of those guys that have played in the league a long time, they have went against these guys a lot of time, seen a lot of looks,” Steichen said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, just understanding what you are going up against and be ready for the unknown. Because you know it is not going to be perfect out there. Us coaches we got to be able to adjust on the sidelines to help these guys make plays. "
Richardson was also recently named as one of the team’s seven captains, a title that was voted on by his teammates.
“I think it’s big. It just shows what the team has thought about him. I mean these were not, there was no favoritism – these guys, it was their votes and they voted him to be one of the top seven captains,” said Steichen. “I’m excited for him to get that honor. I think that’s a big honor as a rookie. To get that just kind of really speaks volumes about what the team thinks about him.”
The quarterback position isn’t the only spot where the Colts will look a little different. Pro Bowl running back Jonathan Taylor was placed on the team’s PUP list for at least the first four weeks of the season. The move comes after Taylor was denied a contract extension and then allowed by the Colts to seek a trade, but no deal for the running back materialized. Taylor is also dealing with a lingering ankle issue after undergoing surgery last year.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard addressed the media last week and spoke about the situation regarding Taylor.
“Jonathan is a well-respected and really good human being and a damn good football player,” Ballard said. “I think we all know this. Things like this happen. I tell every rookie that comes in here, ‘There’s going to be a point when we disagree, and it’s usually about money and it’s going to be hard.”
According to a report from Aaron Wilson of KPRC2, running back Deon Jackson is expected to get the start in Week 1. The Colts other running back, Zack Moss, may see the field as well in the season opener but he is currently recovering from a broken arm. Evan Hull is another option the Colts have in the backfield.
Steichen says the Colts are hopeful Moss will be ready for Week 1, and that he is trending in the right direction. On Monday, Steichen suggested that all three backs will get chances to show their skills and the team will decide playing time based on their performance.
“I think it’s running back-by-committee,” Steichen said. “Whoever’s got the hot hand, let ‘em ride a little bit.”
The Colts defense on the other hand may not look that much different than the previous year. Personnel-wise they should be sending a lot of the same guys out there, except for All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore was acquired by the Dallas Cowboys in an offseason trade that sent the Colts a 2023 fifth-round pick.
This means the Colts secondary is going to have to work even harder when it comes to trying to slow down what could be a very potent Jacksonville offense. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is in year two in Pederson’s offense, and the team added a new weapon, ringing in former Atlanta Falcons wideout Calvin Ridley, who is expected to be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
It could prove to be a tough task for a name familiar to Jags fans. For the second year in a row, Gus Bradley will lead the Colts defense.
Bradley hopes to lead a Colts defensive front that brings back both defensive tackle Deforest Buckner and defensive end Kwity Paye. The pair was able to combine for 12 total sacks last season and the hope is that number will grow even larger this year.
Another returning defensive player Steichen will try to lean on is veteran linebacker Shaq Leonard. On Monday, Steichen spoke about Leonard’s importance to the team overall.
“Just his leadership presence out there, and the way he sees the game, and the way he studies the game,” said Steichen. “Just the presence he brings to our football team out there defensively is tremendous for our guys.” To have a leader like him, to see it the way he sees it. The way he calls out plays by formation, that stuffs invaluable. We’re looking forward to him playing this year.”
On Thursday, Leonard was cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol, so he is expected play Sunday against the Jaguars. He suffered the injury in the first joint practice against the Chicago Bears last month. The Colts are hopeful that Leonard can be more of an impact this season. He played in only three games last year before being shut down for the season after Week 9.
Steichen was also asked about his team’s identity and when he expects the team to find that identity throughout the season.
“I think it’ll be found out throughout the course of this early on in the season,” said Steichen. “You kind of find out about your team that first month, first-four weeks, Week 5, Week 6, right in there. You kind of figure out who you are as a football team.”
On Wednesday, Steichen talked about being fired up and excited to go out there with the team for his first regular season game as a head coach.
“You know I said it is all about the players. Putting these guys in position to make plays, making sure they are ready to go. Excited for the opportunity, fired up for Week 1. Obviously get a home game against a division opponent, I know Lucas Oil will be rocking. Fans will be fired up, we are excited.”