The Herald Bulletin
---- — The Indianapolis Colts' 2014 first-round pick was holding court in the locker room last week.
"The sky's the limit when it comes to how good this offense can be, how good this team can be," Trent Richardson said while a gaggle of reporters surrounded him. "That's really up to us."
While the debate over the trade that sent the 26th overall pick in Thursday's opening round to the Cleveland Browns for Richardson last September rages from the outside, internally the franchise has long since moved on.
General manager Ryan Grigson repeatedly has said he has no regrets about making the deal, and he still has faith the former Alabama star can regain the form that made him the No. 3 selection in the 2012 NFL draft.
But the team isn't promising Richardson anything.
Ahmad Bradshaw is healthy again after offseason neck surgery. His 19-carry, 95-yard, one-touchdown performance helped clinch a 27-7 victory at San Francisco last year, in the same game Richardson made his debut with the Colts.
Vick Ballard is also healthy after he tore an anterior cruciate ligament on a non-contact play during an otherwise routine weekday practice. That freak injury was the spark that ignited the talks that led to the Richardson trade.
Either player could line up behind Andrew Luck for the first snap Sept. 7 at Denver.
"That position group is as strong as any position group on this football team," Grigson said. "(Richardson's) got his work cut out for him. He knows it. Like at any position group, we expect big things out of him and everyone else at every position if we're going to win a Super Bowl. Everyone's got to play lights out."
That goal — so clearly stated in stickers above each player's locker at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center that feature an image of the Lombardi Trophy with the roman numerals "XXIX" above it and the words "All In" below it — is the single greatest reason the focus on Richardson will not dissipate.
Indianapolis is tantalizing close to rejoining the NFL's elite. Before Reggie Wayne's injury, and with a healthy defensive secondary, it defeated both Super Bowl participants a year ago.
But the offense struggled mightily in the first several weeks following Wayne's torn anterior cruciate ligament near the end of the Oct. 20 win against the Broncos. And the defense finished the season by surrendering 87 combined points in two playoff games.
The Colts have just five picks in a draft universally lauded for its extensive depth. And the most valuable selection it could have had already has been used to bring Richardson to town.
So the debate rages on.
It's worth noting Richardson still is just 22 years old and that he claims he's only now gaining a firm grasp of the concepts that drive Indianapolis' offensive philosophy.
If Richardson can live up to his billing coming out of college, the Colts just might reach the heights to which they aspire. If not, many more questions will be asked about that 26th pick and what might have been.
For now, Grigson's asking for a little more patience.
"I'll say this guys, let's just let the guy get in pads," the GM said. "This horse has been dead and buried for months. Trent's in a great place right now."