16

June

Don’t Forget About Safety Sean Richardson

Safety Sean Richardson. Photo credit: Royalbroil (Wikimedia Commons)

No one will argue that the safety position was a major deficiency for the Green Bay Packers during the 2013-14 season. They didn’t generate a single interception and they frequently looked lost in coverage. Now, as we enter the 2014-15 campaign, it’s poised to be a position of strength.

For starters, gone is M.D. Jennings, who is now competing for a roster spot in Chicago. Entering is first-round draft selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who, according to many, fell as a gift to the Packers at the 21st spot.

Also garnering headlines is versatile defensive back Micah Hyde. Last year, he played mainly in the nickel substitution packages or covering the slot receiver. However, during the most recent OTAs, he took first-team reps at safety alongside Morgan Burnett.

With the combination of Clinton-Dix and Hyde competing for playing time next to Burnett, it appears the Packers are set at the starting safety tandem.

Third-year player Sean Richardson would beg to differ. His career almost never got started when he sustained a serious neck injury during his 2012 rookie campaign, but now that he’s fully healed, he’s poised to make some noise in the defensive secondary as he enters another season in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system.

It’s easy to forget about Richardson because he went undrafted in 2012 and then free missed extensive time during the most crucial first two years of a young player’s developmental window.

However, his measurables cannot be ignored. When compared to Clinton-Dix, he is bigger (6’2″ and 216 lbs. to 6’1″ and 208 lbs.), faster (4.52 secs to 4.58 secs in the 40-yard dash), stronger (22 reps to 11 reps at the bench press), more explosive (38.5″ to 33.0″ inches in the vertical jump and 128″ to 119″ in the broad jump), and more agile (7.01 secs to 7.16 secs) in the 3-cone drill).

These aren’t knocks against Clinton-Dix at all because he is considered a first-round talent and should make an immediate impact.

It simply means we can’t forget about Richardson because he is a rare combination of size, strength, and speed.

Richardson has elite measurables, but he simply needs time to develop his game. He went undrafted because scouts thought his coverage skills fell short of what his athleticism should dictate.

Interestingly, scouts thought the same thing about fellow undrafted defensive back Sam Shields. The tall and fast Shields showed flashes of brilliance at times, but did struggle in coverage at times early on during his career. But, once given extensive playing time at the cornerback position when Charles Woodson was converted to safety, Shields excelled and recently earned a lucrative contract extension.

I’m not claiming that Richardson will have a similar meteoric rise as Shields, but the Packers do have a precedent of developing undrafted defensive backs if you also consider cornerback Tramon Williams. Clearly, the defensive backs coaches are onto something.

Richardson may not crack the starting lineup, but his emergence will promote competition at the safety position, which will improve the overall defense. Pushing Clinton-Dix and Hyde for playing time can only be a good thing.

Playing in substitution packages gives Capers more creative flexibility. Imagine if Richardson can be trusted in the back end of the defense. That frees up Hyde to line up in several different packages and positions.

Depth at the safety position is something the Packers haven’t had in quite some time. That’s quite refreshing and suggests the 2014-15 defense will have some noticeable improvements.

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Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WIsports.com.

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.

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26 Responses to “Don’t Forget About Safety Sean Richardson”

  1. KG says:

    Great Article. I totally agree, except I thought the person that should be worried was Burnett.

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    • John Zoul says:

      KG, am in your corner…Burnett looked clueless last year and would appear to be, at best, an average safety, with little play-making ability. His position should be wide open. Just because he signed an elite contract, does not mean he is an elite player, ala Shields and Tramon Williams. Competition improves the team. Handing a spot to a player who was mediocre most of 2013 sends the wrong signal.

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  2. Since '61 says:

    Jay – some good points about Richardson. I would like to see him get some more playing time as well. However, until we see these players in real games, I am not sure that the Safety position is poised to become a position of strength for the Packers. Burnett remains a big question mark. Dix is a rookie, Hyde is untested, Richardson hasn’t really had a chance to play, and Banjo is inexperienced. I am expecting and hoping that our safety play will improve this year, but it really is too soon to tell. There ain’t no Willie Woods back there. Go Pack! Thanks, Since ’61

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    • Stroh says:

      Willie Wood is a Pro Football HOF’er. How about if we start w/ our expectations just a bit lower and more realistic?!

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

      • Since '61 says:

        Stroh – thanks for the feedback, I am quite famiar with Wood’s career. But I am just pointing out that we have a long way to go at the safety position. As for my expectations, yes, I do aim high. If we’re going to be champions we need to excellent in all phases of the game. I believe in aiming high with realistic goals along the way. However, neither real life nor the NFL wait for you to get there. If you’re not ready to play you get stomped, as the Packer safeties did last year. This is true in any profession. I am not saying that our safeties are ready to HOFers but they better be ready to play by our opening game. Go Pack! Thanks, Since ’61

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        • Stroh says:

          Just saying that given our Safety play was terrible last year and we don’t have any proven reliable Safeties at the moment it makes a little sense to start w/ getting some reliable play and setting realistic expectations for the moment. Willie Wood didn’t become a HOF’er overnite and Hyde, Richardson and Clinton-Dix are talented but unproven.

          Lets just hope for reliable play and raise our expectations as the show us what they are capable of. Its too early to start throwing out anything like Willie Wood just yet.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

      • Mark says:

        Since ’61 always has insight, and didn’t appear to imply expectation with his Willie Wood comment. Wish I could see the Lombardi Packers play, Popovich doesn’t have nothin’ on Vince. Times were different though.

        90% of the game is 110% mental. [Hope I got Yogi right]

        GMs job would be easy if all you had to do was look at combine results and pick the players like it was Madden Football.

        For Big T – We are drunk on warm Point in a dirty glass, not TT. [On Tuesdays they put out cheese curds at my corner tavern]

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  3. Big T says:

    I feel that our Safety positions improve greatly when our Defensive line play improves…

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  4. Stroh says:

    Comparing Richardson to Shields is really unfair. Shields transition to CB was made much easier due to his experience (HS and 3 yrs college) playing WR. So in almost every instance Shields knew what the WR wanted to do and how he would do it. Shields really only had to learn the plays a little. The Packers also sheltered him as a rookie a lot by only asking him to play man coverage, which given his experience as a WR and athletic gifts was pretty easy.

    Richardson was used at Vandy as another LB, more than he was used as a Safety. He had next to nothing in terms of coverage experience, either in zone or man coverage ability. He has measurables similar to Eric Reid, who the 9ers chose in the 1st rd last year at #19 overall. If Richardson can learn angles in coverage and some man coverage skills he has a chance to be a very good starting Safety. He is in many ways a blank slate for the coaches to develop. The question is, can he develop those skills and more importantly the instincts needed. If he can he could be as good (possibly better) than the other Safeties on the roster.

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    • John Zoul says:

      Stroh, well argued. Am in total agreement with you on this one…

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    • Ed Schoenfeld says:

      It’s worth thinking about how many times a player has successfully transitioned going ‘deeper’ on the field (say from LB to S). Generally, transitions going forward are easier, as that is mainly a matter of gaining bulk and strength while not losing too much athleticism. Going deeper on the field means that the player needs to gain (or uncover) athletic ability — it’s possible, it may be even reasonable to try if the player’s college position is really that of ‘best athlete on the field,’ as is the case with most pass rushers, but we watching all of these college DE’s try to become outside linebackers should give us a hint as to how hard it actually is to do.

      So what Richardson is trying to do is really ver hard to do. I get that he did play some deeper coverage (rather than being a straight up LB) in college, so he may have a better chance than some, but let’s keep our expectations within reason (seems to be a theme on this thread).

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  5. funcrusher says:

    Capers supposedly “simplifying” the defense should help these young safeties in coverage, which seems to be the biggest question mark with Richardson.

    That being said, Richardson has the measurables to be a strong safety from Hell. It sounds like he’s looked good in OTA’s, but earning playing time at such a competitive position won’t be easy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Mojo says:

    Although he hasn’t played much since joining GB, this is the start of his third year. Even if it’s mostly in the film room, he should be catching on by now. He did play safety in HS through college. Really no reason for him to get lost in the scheme.

    Great measurables, and PFF rated him our top safety in 2013(that’s how bad it was). If we don’t see improvement this camp, we probably never will.

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  7. I agree that GB now has some talented athletes available to play safety. I expect much better safety play. I have some hopes for Richardson since he is an excellent athlete. However, according to NFL.com draft profiles, Richardson 1) was used almost exclusively as a box safety by Vanderbilt even though he ran around blocks and was a drag-down tackler; 2) had serious issues in man coverage due to lack of discipline the few times he was used in that role; and 3) struggled in zone coverage (I have paraphrased the website).

    Sounds like Richardson needed a lot of coaching, but was injured on 11/25/12 and came back late last year. He certainly has a chance due to his measurables, but he might need more time to develop. Note, Burnett’s measurables versus Richardson’s (in parentheses) are pretty similar: 6’1″ (6′ 2″)tall, 209 (216)lbs., 4.51 (4.52) forty, 16 (22) reps, 39.5 (38.5) vertical, 6.87 (7.01)3 cone 11’08″ (10′ 08″) Broad jump, 1.57 (1.51) 10 yd. dash. Burnett’s draft profiles noted that he also was an excellent athlete who often played well but was inconsistent. Give credit to TT for providing GB’s safeties coach Darren Perry with some athletic players (Burnett, Dix, Hyde, Richardson). But remember, Jerron McMillan (5’11″, 203 lbs., 4.56 forty, 17 reps, 36.5 vertical, 120 broad, and a sterling 6.69 3 cone time) was an excellent athlete too, but Perry/Capers couldn’t coach him up.

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  8. Chad lundberg says:

    I’m excited about Richardson. I know people hate this word, but I absolutely love his “potential”. At the very least, he adds much needed depth at the position.

    But I am deeply bothered by the way he was handled. The safety performance was so poor this year, that anyone would have gone with a calculated risk of letting Richardson play.

    I’m not usually on par with bleacher report (they prefer ratings over fact-checking and journalism skill IMO), but a couple articles nailed it on this subject: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1892034-why-the-green-bay-packers-must-replace-md-jennings-with-sean-richardson, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1885142-why-the-green-bay-packers-should-start-safety-sean-richardson-over-md-jennings

    Why in the world didn’t they let this guy play more? The last five games were so tight that even a slight improvement in play could have made a drastic difference.

    Am I the only one who’s thinking that MM and TT, as good as they are, can be completely complacent at times?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Archie says:

      What they do with certain players makes no sense to me. Hawk, Jones, Raji, Burnett and Richardson late last year are all good examples.

      I have loved Richardson’s potential from the first time I saw him on a field. I even thought he would do well as an OLB.

      Burnett is the mystery man. Why did his play fall off the table last year? Was it the money? I think it was. Shades of Antonio Freeman. I’d put the guy on a short leash. Anything less than a big return to form in the early going and I’d give his roster spot to somebody who wants it more.

      That said, S should be quite improved this year, both starters and depth. Now if we could move the logjam at starting ILB, things would get interesting on defense.

      I don’t expect Raji and Worthy to be here in 2015 and they both may fail to make the 53 for 2014. But, beyond those two, I am hopeful for the rest of our of our DL. Losing Muhammed Wilkerson to the Jets one pick before D Sherrod still hurts. Ditto D Revis two picks before J Harrell. I could go on and on but why bother. TT is da man, right GB fans?

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    • Stroh says:

      They didn’t let him play more so he could comeback from neck surgery gradually and not force him to play too much earlier. They didn’t want to have him comeback before he was truly ready to contribute in a meaningful way. Now he’s had an entire offseason and even more healing and rehab time.

      Besides he was a complete unknown and the coaches didn’t know if they could trust him.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

    • Ed Schoenfeld says:

      Chad, Richardson wasn’t even cleared for non-contact practice with the team until week 11. He is the *FIRST* neck injury player the Packrs *ever* cleared for practice, much less to play a game , and he had missed an *entire year* on ‘in pads’ football conditioning.

      You do no one, player or team, any favors by putting them on the field too soon.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Chad Lundberg says:

        I disagree, if the neck really was such a concern they would have never let him on the field in the first place. This was the same organization that cut a possible HOFer Nick Collins because of injury concerns. Cautious is their game.

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        • Ed Schoenfeld says:

          Do you really think that someone who hasn’t practiced with the team or taken a hit in 12 months can just go play football in a game like they had missed no time at all?

          Richardson was limited in what he could do in 2013 because he did not get in a full offseason of learning, as well as the fact that the team docs did not clear him for contact until the end of October. What you call ‘caution’ I call realistic expectations.

          I to am excited about what he might do this year, but i don’t at all agree that he was ‘mishandled’ last year. In fact I was rather surprised they let him play at all — the first time they had done that for any cervical spine injury ever.

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  9. the real russ letlow says:

    I’m really looking forward to some good competition at the safety position. Production-wise , we’ve got nowhere to go but up!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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