'Long Journey' Ends with Richardson in Lineup

Sean Richardson has gone from having his career in jeopardy to earning the bulk of the playing time opposite fellow safety Morgan Burnett. Richardson's rise could be a big deal for Burnett, who hasn't intercepted a pass in 14 consecutive regular-season games.

It's been a remarkable season for Sean Richardson.

And it's not over yet.

The Green Bay Packers' second-year safety has gone from wondering if he'd ever play again to possibly becoming a starter as the team tries to make a frantic push for the playoffs.

In his first games back, against Minnesota and Detroit, Richardson played 14 percent of the defensive snaps in each game, according to league data. Last week against Atlanta, however, Richardson replaced M.D. Jennings, who missed a tackle on a Falcons touchdown, and played 64 percent of the defensive snaps.

"Oh, man, it was great, man, to help contribute to the team, to finally be back out there playing, it was awesome," Richardson said. "It had been a long journey."

Richardson, an undrafted rookie last year, was just starting to make a push for playing time at about this point last year. He played 15 snaps against Detroit in Week 11. The next week at the Giants, however, Richardson sustained a neck injury on the opening kickoff. Offseason surgery followed and the waiting – and worrying – began.

He opened the season on the physically unable to perform list and was added to the active roster in time for the Nov. 24 game against Minnesota.

"If they didn't think it was going to be well enough to play, they wouldn't have cleared me to play," Richardson said. "It was a long journey. I had to be patient. Being a real competitor at heart, it was tough at times."

Richardson, at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, adds a bigger, more physical player compared to Jennings (6-0, 195). "He can go down there and play in the box and tackle and knock people back," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday. "I think he showed up on special teams doing that, so you see his straight-line speed and his size show up."

That could be an asset for the Packers' defense, in general, and fellow safety Morgan Burnett, in particular. With the smaller Jennings, Burnett (6-1, 209) has played more of an in-the-box role, which has limited his opportunities to make plays in the secondary.

Burnett, who the Packers signed to a lucrative contract extension in the offseason, has no interceptions this season and none in his last 14 regular-season games. In fact, other than his two-interception game against Minnesota late last season, Burnett hasn't intercepted a pass since Week 3 of 2011.

"It would be (helpful for Burnett)," safeties coach Darren Perry said last week. "(Richardson) gives you another big body down there, kind of a thumper, and that would allow Morgan to play in the deeper part of the field."

Capers wouldn't say who would start against Dallas, saying playing time would be based on matchups. Capers, however, did say that Richardson would play "as many, if not more," snaps against the Cowboys.

"We feel comfortable that each week that he's a little more ready to play," Capers said.

It's a remarkable rise for a player who wasn't sure about his playing future just a couple months later. Now, without the benefit of a training camp – these games are the equivalent of his preseason – Richardson is rising into a key role.

"This past week was my best week because I felt good getting in position to make tackles and breaking down and having body control," Richardson said. "My technique was getting back to normal, like last year. I used to have to think about a lot of stuff when I first got back. ‘I've got to break down, I've got to eliminate angles, I've got to fit a certain way' and stuff like that. Now, I'm not really thinking about that. It took a few weeks. I had to learn on the fly. I've played football all my life, so it's no different, it's getting the feeling back and getting my feet back wet."

And now, Richardson might find himself in the starting lineup. What might that mean, considering his arduous comeback?

"Just being back is a blessing," he said. "That's all I can ask for is to have an opportunity. God gave me an opportunity as well as the Green Bay Packers. I'm just blessed and thankful to be here. If I play one snap, you know, I'm just happy to be back out there playing football again."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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