RENTON — Paul Richardson doesn’t take off from the line of scrimmage. He glides off it, as if from a runway.
He zooms down the field uninterrupted. And usually uncatchable.
The rookie wide receiver’s speed was once clocked at 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Seattle’s roster says he’s 6 feet and 183 pounds. But that’s not what the eyes say. Not as they view the wake of Seahawks defenders he’s been leaving strewn across the Virginia Mason Athletic Center’s fields all spring and summer.
In a scrimmage Tuesday, Richardson blew past cornerback Phillip Adams and safety Steven Terrell. He sprinted into the end zone to receive B.J. Daniels’ precise, 40-yard pass in stride. He was going so fast he needed another 20 yards past the end line onto an empty back field to finish his deceleration.
It was exactly why Seattle used its first pick in May’s draft, in the second round, on this blur out of Colorado.
“That’s what I’m supposed to do, man. Make plays down field,” Richardson said later Tuesday.
The Seahawks remain excited, almost mischievous about what Richardson will do this season, perhaps right away as a kickoff returner, and down the road as a huge-play wide receiver.
Speed, after all, thrills.
“That’s big for us,” Seahawks wide receivers coach Kippy Brown, the 21-year veteran NFL assistant, said of Richardson’s supersonic pace. “I’d rather have that than a guy who does everything else well but doesn’t have speed.
“He has a long way to go, just learning how to play football, the grind of it. But talent is not his problem. … All young players have to go through a stage of growing. I’ve never seen one, even guys that end up being Pro Bowlers, that came into the league doing all that you want them to do.
“It’s a process, and he’s going through it. He’s on schedule.”
Sure, his long touchdown play on Tuesday was easily noticed. Yet it is a far more subtle play last week against San Diego, one in which Richardson never got the ball – heck, it wasn’t even a pass play – that showed he is indeed growing. Quickly, like everything else he does.
Immediately after the exhibition opener in Denver, Richardson had criticized himself in the locker room for not completing his assigned blocks outside. Then last week in the fourth quarter against San Diego quarterback Terrelle Pryor took off on a wowing, 44-yard touchdown run. Because Pryor sprinted past the rest of the defense, he only needed one block down the left sideline. Richardson gave it to him, on Chargers cornerback Chris Davis.
“I wouldn’t have gotten that touchdown without Paul Richardson,” Pryor said.
That’s the growth that creates trust within the team, especially one that is built upon a running game and demands all wide receivers block well.
“I didn’t catch anything the second game, but it feels good to be out there helping without the ball in my hands,” Richardson said. “I felt a greater sense of satisfaction than I did (in Denver) with the ball in my hands. That’s where I wanted to improve, to grow in that area.”
When asked what coaches said to him for the block on Pryor’s TD, Richardson smiled.
“Just ‘selfless,’ ” he said. “That’s what they want us to do, though.
“Most people wouldn’t expect me to block on the outside.”
That’s not the only place Richardson may be an asset this fall for the Seahawks.
Given the risk of keeping All-Pro safety Earl Thomas as his primary punt returner, coach Pete Carroll was asked this week about the possibility of Richardson returning punts.
Carroll said the teams sees him as a kickoff returner instead. The coach said the rookie who never returned kickoffs at Colorado is ready right now to do it in an NFL game, if that’s the way the team decides to go.
Richardson, of course, is all for that.
“Here, we have a lot of weapons,” he said. “Coach Carroll prides himself on finding what guys are good at, and then putting them in position to show their talents. If he feels like I can help in special teams, I’m confident enough to do it.”
The confidence comes in part from genetics; his father Paul Sr. played wide receiver at UCLA, and one game for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1993.
But the younger Richardson also is empowered by what he’s gone through to get here.
He thought his NFL dreams were finished in the spring of 2012. Before his junior season at Colorado Richardson shredded his knee in a noncontact, special-teams drill — “a drill I wasn’t even supposed to be in,” he says now.
“When it first happened, yeah, there was a lot of doubt,” he said.
His doctor told him to expect the standard 9-to-12-month recovery from knee reconstruction.
Richardson’s reply: “Well, I don’t agree.”
Richardson told his surgeon, “As soon as I walk, I’m going to run.”
The doctor laughed. Richardson’s trainers in Colorado laughed, too.
“I started running before I was three months out of surgery,” he said.
He accelerated his recovery in part by flying one of his four brothers in from California to literally drag his reconstructed leg out of bed in Colorado soon after the surgery.
“That’s what I pride myself on, not necessarily proving people wrong — but proving myself right,” he said.
He starred in the 2013 spring game at CU that his trainers told him not to play in. And he went bonkers in the first game of his return, last season’s opener against Colorado State in Denver. The first time he touched the ball, he sprinted 82 yards with a catch for a touchdown. He flew past everyone on a go route for another, a 75-yard score, and ended up with 10 catches for 208 yards – on a freshly rebuilt knee.
“My drive comes from just knowing how fortunate I am to be in the position I am in,” he said. “I try to capitalize on each opportunity I am given.”
See, he’s almost lost this dream he’s living, three different times.
A year before the knee reconstruction he played through his sophomore season at Colorado on a damaged medial collateral ligament. A year before that, in 2010, hometown UCLA released him from the team following his arrest on suspicion of felony theft on campus.
Richardson and two fellow incoming freshmen teammates were alleged to have stolen a student’s backpack with $1,200 of goods inside it. Richardson was not allowed to continue summer school at UCLA or enroll in its fall quarter.
Soon after, he was released from his letter of intent. He signed with Colorado and eventually pleaded to a misdemeanor charge.
“I went to Colorado to experience something new, to grow up,” he said. “It helped me grow as a young man, being away from home and my family. And it helped me grow as a person, adapting and maturing.”
That maturation, that bulling through the knee injuries, the doubts plus the mistakes of a teenage kid, have Richardson in the place his father was 11 years ago — albeit for just one game.
His son has the promise of a NFL career that will last far longer.
“I think he’s proud,” Richardson said of dad. “He’s proud that I’ve made it to the NFL.”
The 22-year old gathered himself for an instant.
“My whole family (which also includes a sister) is proud,” he said. “At every level, I’ve been doubted. Doubted because of my size. Doubted because I go deep a lot people think that’s all I can do. In high school. When I transferred (from UCLA).
“Now, I’m a rookie in the NFL. I am doing it.”