Seattle Seahawks

Sheldon Richardson already showing he’s ‘a difference maker’ for Seahawks

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers pressured by Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the season opener. Although Richardson doesn’t have a sack yet, he’s been the disruptive force the team’s hoped for.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers pressured by Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the season opener. Although Richardson doesn’t have a sack yet, he’s been the disruptive force the team’s hoped for. AP

Sheldon Richardson has spent much of his two Seahawks games dominating.

Exactly as he expected.

Twice in two drives in the opener Sept. 10 the former New York Jets Pro Bowl defensive tackle blew through Green Bay’s offensive line. That resulted in two holding penalties on the Packers. The first ruined Green Bay’s first drive after halftime – and Richardson still hit quarterback Aaron Rodgers while getting held.

On another Packers pass play Richardson spun back to chase down Rodgers from behind. He had both arms around the two-time NFL MVP’s legs, and was on his way to a sack until Rodgers chucked the ball away just before his legs touched the turf.

Did his Seahawks debut go the way he expected?

“No,” he said flatly. “We didn’t win.”

Last weekend in the home opener, Richardson’s value showed most by what happened when he got some rest.

San Francisco couldn’t do anything with Richardson anchoring the outside zone-read gap through which the 49ers wanted to run Carlos Hyde to set up their offense. Then Richardson stood on the sideline during a second-quarter drive for Seattle’s defense. Hyde cut back right through where Richardson would have been for 61 yards to set up San Francisco’s first score.

In the fourth quarter, Richardson again began a drive resting on the sideline, for the last of the 10 plays he missed against the 49ers. San Francisco drove from its own 30 to the Seattle 20 before Richardson re-entered. The 49ers then kicked their go-ahead field goal before the Seahawks rallied to win, 12-9.

Perhaps the Seahawks (1-1) should keep Richardson on the field for almost all of Sunday’s test here against Tennessee (1-1).

So what that it’s supposed to be 89 degrees and humid at kickoff?

Richardson has already left the impression he doesn’t need – or like – rest.

“I just love his energy,” All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “As soon as he stepped in the building, he kind of just fit right in with us.

“It’s another person out there running around making plays. He’s fighting to make tackles, getting off blocks. It’s another guy you have to account for.

“It helps make us unblockable up front because who are you going to double-team?”

That was the idea when the Seahawks – who already had Pro Bowl ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril plus Frank Clark, a 10-sack man last season – traded for Richardson three weeks ago. Seattle sent a second-round pick and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to the Jets.

The more Richardson returns to his 13-sack form he had in 2014 and ’15 with New York, the less Seattle’s opponents can afford their usual blocking attention on Avril and Bennett.

While he doesn’t have an official sack, Richardson has been perhaps Seattle’s most valuable player on defense.

“We are lucky to have him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We are really expecting him to be a big factor.”

It’s not often in the NFL a defensive tackle is a huge key to a game. But watch 91 in white for Seattle on Sunday. It won’t be hard to find him – and not just because he’s 6-foot-3 and (perhaps conservatively) listed at 295 pounds.

He will be in the middle of the Titans’ desire to use power-running plays with big back Derrick Henry between the tackles of their excellent run-blocking offensive line.

If Richardson is as difficult to move for the Titans as he was for the 49ers and Packers, Tennessee’s game plan will change.

“Yeah, he’s a difference maker,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “Very disruptive at the line of scrimmage...

“It’s a different presence that we haven’t had here in the middle, and it’s absolutely going to pay dividends for us. I’m very happy that he’s here.”

Richardson’s proving to be more than just a dynamic tackle filling the void left when top rookie draft choice Malik McDowell was severely injured in a summer ATV accident.

As Wagner noted, Richardson’s already fitting right into a Seahawks’ locker room full of dominant personalities.

Recently, he was howling with his new teammates following practice. He joked to one across the locker room to “come here and get your problem solved, then!”

“Still trying to figure him out,” Avril said, chuckling.

“But no, he is a heck of a ball player. He is super, super athletic. I didn’t realize… I mean, this guy is 300 pounds (and) he played outside linebacker. He can play 3-tech. He can play defensive end, you know. I think he was a running back at one point in time or something like that (in his native Missouri).

“So he is extremely athletic.”

Avril, 31, also appreciates the 26-year-old Richardson’s football IQ.

“He knows football, which is pretty cool,” Avril said. “Sometimes younger players, you still try and give them little keys and whatnot. And he is already kind of on top of it, so that is pretty cool to see.”

Asked about his first games for Seattle, Richardson shrugged. He wants to know what all the fuss and excitement was about.

“I was more stout against the run (for New York). I want to be more stout against the run here,” Richardson said.

“Other than that, my rushes are a lot better. From my standpoint, the inside pressure I create, it should be like that all the time, honestly.

“I’ve got 10-year vets like Cliff Avril, Mike B. It’s kind of hard not to be productive.”

The Seahawks are imagining all the places they can employ him to wreck offenses, from nose tackle to outside at end to perhaps even, as Avril noted Richardson did for the Jets, as a stand-up linebacker rushing off the edge.

For now, the Seahawks are keeping Richardson as a three-technique tackle, with the task to control the gap between the offense’s guard and tackle.

“He does understand many of the schemes and concepts. But we’ve just got to make sure that we keep him locked in a certain spot, so he can learn to dominate there first – and then we can see about moving him around,” Richard said.

Richardson said the toughest task so far has been trying to read what the unpredictable Bennett is going to do on any play. Bennett often freelances up and down the line, loops inside and out from play to play, to maximize his speed and mismatches against opposing linemen.

“Sometimes he’ll tell me,” Richardson said. “Sometimes he doesn’t.”

Other than that, he says his job here in Seattle is not all that difficult to grasp: Beat blockers, find ball carriers, sack quarterbacks.

The Titans and Marcus Mariota are up next.

EXTRA POINTS

Pete Carroll said tight end Jimmy Graham and his ankle “issue” looked much improved in the light, final practice of the week, and that Graham should be able to play against the Titans. He’s listed as questionable. ... Neiko Thorpe (ankle) is out for Sunday. … Fellow special-teams ace D.J. Alexander (hamstring) is questionable. … Outside linebacker Terence Garvin (shoulder) is questionable. … Those three injuries mean the Seahawks will be moving players into new roles on special teams against dangerous Titans rookie kick returner Adoree Jackson.

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