Former New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is already dominating in his new role with the Seahawks. That role will likely expand, perhaps as soon as Sunday’s home opener against San Francisco. Bill Kostroun AP
Former New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is already dominating in his new role with the Seahawks. That role will likely expand, perhaps as soon as Sunday’s home opener against San Francisco. Bill Kostroun AP

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Why, one game in, Sheldon Richardson is already “a difference maker” in Seahawks’ defense

September 16, 2017 04:25 PM

UPDATED September 17, 2017 06:43 PM

RENTON Sheldon Richardson spent much of his Seahawks debut dominating. Exactly as he expected.

Twice in two drives last weekend 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?

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

In two weeks with Seattle since his trade from New York, he’s already been all the Seahawks hoped, and more--even if you haven’t completely noticed.

“Yeah, he’s a difference maker,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard said this week. “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 defensive tackle filling the void left when top rookie draft choice Malik McDowell was severely injured in a summer ATV accident.

Richardson’s already a locker-room leader and joker, too, as he was with the Jets.

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

"Still trying to figure him out," fellow defensive lineman Cliff Avril said, chuckling.

"But no, he is a heck of a ball player. He is super, super athletic. I didn’t realize, I mean you kind of have an idea of how athletic he might be, but to see it in person…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."

So is this, for Avril: He and fellow Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett stand to benefit most by Richardson’s arrival two weeks ago from the Jets in exchange for a second-round pick and former Lakes High School star wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. 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 and double-teams on Avril and Bennett this season.

When I asked Richardson in the Seahawks’ locker room Friday, the final day of full practice before Sunday’s home opener against San Francisco, about his debut, he shrugged.

He wanted 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 excited all the disruption they got in Green Bay from Richardson came after he had practiced just four times with his new team. They are imagining all the varied 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 defensive tackle, with the task to control the gap between the offense’s guard and tackle. Sunday, his job is to hold that gap on the front side of stretch plays by 49ers lead back Carlos Hyde in coach Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone-read offense.

"We want to make sure that we keep him locked in," Richard said. "He is a cerebral player. He can do a lot. But he’s new here, so why would we put that on him? He is capable.

“It’s not his first rodeo. He is a true professional. 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."

Coach Pete Carroll mentioned Friday Richardson is still learning exactly where to be on certain calls.

“I think there was a little bit of making sure, looking around to see if he was in the right spots and stuff like that.” Carroll said of Richardson in Green Bay last weekend. “I think he will be more freed up this time around (against San Francisco on Sunday), just naturally.

“I am anxious to see in different kinds of situations, once we get more information on him. But we are really expecting him to be a big factor.”

Richardson didn’t exactly agree with his new coach that he’s still figuring out where to go.

"It was never like that when I got here,” he said. “I know football, so I wasn’t really lost as far as the playbook. I just needed to know the calls that was there at the time.”

He said the toughest task so far has been trying to read what the unpredictable Bennett is going to do on any place. 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, sack quarterbacks.

The 49ers’ Brian Hoyer is up next, on Sunday.