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Shane Steichen's Task Makes Colts One of the Most Interesting Teams of 2023 Offseason

Brent Sobleski February 14, 2023

Shane Steichen speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Indianapolis. Steichen was introduced as the Colts new head coach. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

After one of the most exhaustive head coaching searches in NFL history, the Indianapolis Colts landed on former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. The franchise announced and introduced its new head coach on Tuesday. He now takes over a roster that held lofty expectations going into the 2022 campaign and has the potential for a quick turnaround.

Indianapolis endured a vortex of disaster last season that very few organizations could even understand, let alone survive.

Matt Ryan's acquisition failed miserably, as the veteran quarterback faced constant pressure and led the league in turnovers until finally being benched. The once-vaunted offensive line played like a shell of itself. Standout running back Jonathan Taylor battled injuries. The team fired head coach Frank Reich midseason, only to see owner Jim Irsay hire a completely unproven Jeff Saturday on an interim basis. The Colts even surrendered the biggest comeback in NFL history to the Minnesota Vikings.

The entire performance turned into a weekly episodic version of Murphy's law.

As such, the Colts weren't seen as a one of the top available jobs, particularly with Irsay's meddling. Yet the organization secured the best young offensive mind on the market to lead the way.

"It was just a matter of time before he got the opportunity to be a head coach," former Los Angeles Chargers and Colts quarterback Philip Rivers said in a statement . "His offensive mind and feel for calling a game is elite. The Colts got a heck of a coach and person."

The 37-year-old Steichen is now tied with the Los Angeles Rams' Sean McVay and Minnesota Vikings' Kevin O'Connell as the NFL's youngest coach. However, the path the newest head honcho must undertake will be fraught with obstacles throughout the loaded AFC. A narrow path does exist for Steichen to pull his best Maverick, navigate hostile territory and drop a payload to achieve a successful mission.

Four key offseason steps must occur in short order to place his new team into a position to address last year's failures.


Don't Fix What's Not Broken

Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
AP Photo/Gary McCullough

Overcorrection tends to be the common response after a disappointing campaign that results in turnover. The Colts weren't a completely lost cause, despite all of their issues.

While Steichen wasn't ready to announce any staff decisions at his press conference, he doesn't necessarily need to make significant moves.

More often than not, Indianapolis' defense held up its end of the bargain, only to see the offense flail. Despite constantly facing an uphill battle by not benefiting from complementary football, the Colts' D still ranked among the top half of the league in total defense, pass defense and DVOA, according to Football Outsiders .

As such, the Colts didn't grant permission for coordinator Gus Bradley or his defensive staff to interview elsewhere. Steichen does have a previous working history with Bradley since the two served on the Chargers staff from 2017 to '20.

"I've got a ton of respect for Gus Bradley," Steichen told reporters in November. "Hell of a football coach. Hell of a human being."

Indianapolis' special teams, meanwhile, ranked eighth in veteran columnist Rick Gosselin 's rankings. The unit performed well despite replacing kicker Rodrigo Blankenship midseason with Chase McLaughlin and needing to bring in punter Matt Haack because of an injury to incumbent Rigoberto Sanchez.

As a result, coordinator Ray "Bubba" Ventrone received an interview to become the head coach.

Steichen should retain both. Coincidentally, both coordinators attended Tuesday's press conference.


Philly West

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 29: Philadelphia Eagles guard Isaac Seumalo (56) sets up to block during the Championship game between the San Fransisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles on January 29, 2023. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The job of an NFL head coach isn't just to be teach the X's and O's. He serves as the de facto CEO for the entire organization. In Steichen's case, he needs to be a recruiter as well.

There are worse plans than trying to bring strong Eagles vibes to the Colts, especially on offense. Steichen should mine any opportunities available to him, starting with his coaching staff.

Philadelphia's passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo or quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson should be brought along to serve as the Colts' new offensive coordinator. Granted, Steichen already said he'll call plays. But the setup could become similar to the one in Philadelphia where Nick Sirianni originally orchestrated the offense before handing the reins to Steichen.

The offensive line hire may be the most important remaining coaching staff decision. The Colts feature the league's highest-paid front five. The group faltered badly in 2022, which derailed the offense. The Eagles featured the league's best offensive line, and Roy Istvan served as the team's assistant offensive line coach during the last four seasons. If hired, maybe he would bring a little Jeff Stoutland magic along with him.

From a roster standpoint, the Eagles are littered with pending free agents. Three should greatly intrigue the Colts.

Isaac Seumalo is a quality starting guard with experience playing center, if Indianapolis opts to release Ryan Kelly and gain $10.1 million in salary-cap flexibility with a June 1 designation, per Over The Cap . Andre Dillard disappointed as a former first-round draft pick, but the offensive tackle can challenge Bernhard Raimann for the starting left tackle spot. Finally, Gardner Minshew can serve as a bridge and mentor for whichever quarterback the Colts acquire this offseason.


Outmaneuver the AFC South

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 02: DeMeco Ryans (C) is introduced as the Houston Texans head coach by Chairman and CEO Cal McNair (L) and general manager Nick Caserio at NRG Stadium on February 02, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Once Steichen and his staff are settled, they must get on the same page with general manager Chris Ballard in how the roster will be built.

The Colts are the team most often connected with trading up to the No. 1 overall draft pick, and they should be. The worst-kept secret in the league is they want to identify a young quarterback to build around with Steichen married to the incoming signal-caller.

"I'd do whatever it takes," Ballard responded when asked by reporters if he'd move up to the first pick to acquire a franchise quarterback. "If we thought there's a player that we're driven to get, that makes the franchise and the team better, that's what we do."

Irsay didn't hide the team's internals thoughts, either.

"You just felt that Shane had a lot of that offensive magic, which is hard to find in this league," the owner said Tuesday. "Offense, in my mind, can be a little more complex. It takes a lot more time to develop, knowing we're going to have to find a young quarterback to develop. That's a key factor."

The Houston Texans are the biggest threats regarding the acquisition of the top quarterback prospect from the incoming class.

While Ballard will do the heavy lifting in possibly getting a deal done, Steichen's influence will be all over such a move. The head coach/play-caller will play a significant role with what he wants at the position and who he ultimately prefers.

The coach refers to the quality of those willing to put in the time and effort to be successful as "mental DNA."

"I'm not going to say who they are, but you can probably pick them on a short list," Steichen said prior to Super Bowl LVII, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler . "Those guys who are obsessed with their craft, and you respect it."

By making a trade with the Chicago Bears for the No. 1 pick, the Colts will have their choice of prospects to make sure Steichen gets his guy. It's also a little jab at the rest of the AFC South, because they'll do so at the Texans' expense while possibly gaining ground on Trevor Lawrence and the division-winning Jacksonville Jaguars. Furthermore, Ryan Tannehill will be 35 in July, with the Tennessee Titans possibly falling further behind the rest of the division if/when the other three franchises feature young, talented signal-callers.


QB Whisperer

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 19: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) converses with Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen during the game between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 21, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Steichen built his reputation by developing and adjusting to quarterbacks.

He's already worked directly with Rivers, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. Rivers was already a 12-year veteran before Steichen became quarterbacks coach. Then as offensive coordinator, he helped Herbert win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as the 2020 sixth overall pick set a rookie record with 31 passing touchdowns. Hurts became one of the league's best quarterbacks (and nearly a Super Bowl MVP) under Steichen's supervision.

All three bring completely different skill sets, yet they all experienced success. It boils down to relationships built between coach and player.

"You've got to be honest with them, but also you've got to love them up when they do well, and you've got to correct them when they don't do well," Steichen said two offseasons ago, per NJ Advanced Media's Chris Franklin . "... They have to be who they are. You're not going to change them personality-wise. These guys are who they are, and you've got to adapt to that. You can teach them and grow with them in their personalities, but I think you've got to let them be who they are and let them go play."

The Colts understand it's a quarterback-driven league. Irsay and team brass saw what Steichen accomplished at multiple stops and heard the rave reviews he's received from his colleagues and former players. The coach's pairing with the right triggerman will define the franchise for the next five to 15 years.

"No one can shy away from the fact of what quarterback means in this league, and how we have to look going forward, where Shane and Chris really dig into this draft," Irsay said .