The fourth-year pro contributed as a hybrid linebacker/safety in one of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ subpackages when the Packers wanted to beef up their run defense. Richardson played 121 defensive snaps during the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus, with 41 percent of those snaps coming in a run-support role, the highest percentage of any safety on the team.
“They like my physicality and stuff. And in run support they figure, ‘Hey, we can come up with a package or two for him and let him get out there and showcase his talent,’” said Richardson. “I’m just trying to make myself a more complete safety and continue to get better.”
Already a core special teams player, Richardson was mentioned by coach Mike McCarthy earlier this training camp as a player the Packers are looking to get more involved defensively. Many of the Packers’ safeties — notably starters Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde — are required to play different spots on the field. Richardson is getting some of those same opportunities this training camp.
As the biggest safety on the team (6-2, 218 pounds) Richardson sizes up better against the run than the pass. His pass coverage skills are a work in progress. During Wednesday’s practice, as an example, he was put on an island during a drill with the receivers. Jeff Janis got him on a double move (though Aaron Rodgers’ deep pass fell incomplete) and Davante Adams beat him for a long gain when it appeared footwork was to blame.
Still, Richardson relishes the opportunities to get better.
“I like to put myself in challenging situations at practice so when I get in to the games I’m familiar with those situations or it’s easy to me,” he said. “I want to see how I react to those situations and go back and study and get better.”
Two years ago, Richardson’s football career was in doubt. Coming off hamstring issues to start his rookie season — one in which he made the roster as an undrafted free agent — he later suffered a neck injury that required fusion surgery. But the Packers waited out the nearly year-long recovery and Richardson returned to the field at the end of 2013. Last season, he played in all 16 regular season games and led the team with 17 tackles on special teams.
This past April, the Packers thought enough of Richardson, a restricted free agent, to match the one-year, $2.55 million offer from the Oakland Raiders. What could have been a nervous time was anything but.
“It felt good to be back,” said Richardson. “It was pretty much my agent doing all the work. That’s what they’re there for. In times like that we just focus on training and focus on football so I didn’t stress over anything. We sat down and talked over the phone and stuff like that. I pretty much just let everything play out.
“I didn’t know if they were going to match or not. I haven’t been in that situation before and talking to my agent a lot of players haven’t been in that situation before. It wasn’t as common as you would think but like I said, I pretty much just sat back and let everything happen.”
Six years ago, the Packers matched an offer sheet from the Tennessee Titans to keep Jarrett Bush, a core special teams player, who spent another six years in Green Bay. As a part-time player on defense, Bush played the outside and nickel cornerback spots and even played safety.
Richardson is a different type of player than Bush but the Packers may see similar value.
“Wherever they want to put me I’ll play,” said Richardson. “I’m trying to prepare for everything getting work in with the receivers and stuff now. So, it’s good work. It’s a learning curve and it’s something I’m looking forward to. I’m up for the challenge and I’m always trying to find ways to get better and find ways to get on the field so the more I know, the better it is.”
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com