DE or OLB? Jets' Richardson thinks versatility will pay off
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Sheldon Richardson will play wherever the New York Jets want him to.
And, he knows he'll eventually get paid for it, too.
Richardson has played this season on the defensive line and at outside linebacker, likely losing some game-changing sack opportunities in the process. His versatility, however, will be a selling point after next season. That's when Richardson will be due a contract extension from the Jets - or hit the open market as a big-name free agent.
''I think it'll give me more money, just to be honest,'' Richardson said about playing in multiple spots on the defense. ''My film don't lie. You took a three-technique (lineman) that was drafted in the first round and put him at outside linebacker and he held his own.
''That's just building up a resume for that.''
Since being drafted No. 13 overall out of Missouri in 2013, Richardson has established himself as a force on defense - first for Rex Ryan and now for Todd Bowles - mostly as a 3-4 lineman.
He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with 3 1/2 sacks, and followed that up with eight in his second season and made the Pro Bowl. Richardson's third season got off to a late start after he was suspended the first four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Less than two weeks after receiving that news, Richardson was arrested in Missouri after driving a car at high speeds and resisting arrest. That got him a one-game suspension at the start of this season.
In between that rocky third year and this season, Richardson accepted help and talked through his issues and also became a father. He has attributed his focus and maturity to his improved life outlook, crediting his family and teammates and friends for helping him.
Big things are expected again this year on the field, even if the numbers are slightly down. He has 31 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks after playing quite a bit at linebacker because of the Jets' depth on the line with Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon. But with Wilkerson out last week against Baltimore with a sore ankle, Richardson was back as a 3-4 defensive end and had a solid performance with a sack and three tackles for loss. He also played with a heavy heart, announcing after the 24-16 win that an uncle had recently been killed.
''Last week was my first week playing the end,'' Richardson said. ''It was just that. Since this regime came in, actually.''
Bowles said Richardson ''can play good'' wherever he is put on the defense, but didn't necessarily buy the notion that he might be playing too much at linebacker.
''He plays defensive end,'' Bowles said.
When asked if Richardson will start to get more snaps at defensive end than outside linebacker, Bowles bristled slightly.
''He's gotten a lot more,'' the coach said. ''He doesn't play outside linebacker. His hand is on the ground quite a bit. I think it's misconstrued that he's playing outside linebacker all the time. He plays a lot of defensive end, honestly.''
Wilkerson, listed as questionable Friday , could be back on the field Sunday at Cleveland. That means Richardson could return to moonlighting as an outside linebacker - despite his solid game predominantly as an end last week.
''I'm good at everything,'' Richardson said. ''I'm great at three-technique. I'm going to just leave it at that. I know where my home is and I know I'm more effective at three-technique, but I hold my own playing anywhere in the box.''
Maybe even on offense, too.
When the Jets got down near the goal line last week, some fans on Twitter called for Richardson to be used as a fullback. After all, he had two rushing touchdowns as a rookie - and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey knows all about it.
''I always do my little shouts to Chan to let him know I'm ready to block for anybody,'' a smiling Richardson said. ''I ain't got to score. I'll most definitely go open a hole, too. I'm a team guy.''
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