Since the NFL's popularity is paralleled by no other sport and it is a game whose silver platter is television, Vikings fullback Tony Richardson is one of the best players you rarely see.
When the Vikings signed the free agent from Kansas City last winter, there was some speculation that he would play a significant role in the passing game because of Minnesota's move to a West Coast offense. But so far that hasn't been the case.
Through seven games, Richardson has five catches for 56 yards and four rushes for 10 yards. But what Vikings fans (most of whom watch every Sunday from their living room recliner) don't see is the role Richardson plays on most offensive plays. Whether it is busting up a blitz by a linebacker or creating a hole for Chester Taylor, Richardson is usually the player answering the call.
"You're probably not going to notice most of the stuff he does because he's just running his head in there, hitting his head on a wall every time," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "The plays that he's going to make, the flash plays are going to come through catching the ball out of the backfield and those kind of things, checkdowns.
"I would say he is doing what a typical West Coast fullback would do. There's not going to be a lot of carries."
But more catches might have been anticipated. Consider that in the 2000 season, Richardson made 58 catches for 468 yards with the Chiefs; in 2001, he had 30 receptions for 265 yards. He is on pace with the Vikings to have 11 catches for the season.
"I always talk about the pass game, the coverage dictates where the ball is going to go and normally the checkdowns are a huge part of that," Bevell said. "You have to be in the right personnel group, obviously he has to be on the field. But coming down to the checkdowns is an important part, and sometimes you get there and sometimes you don't."
Typical of his career, Richardson refuses to complain. How big or how small his role is not necessarily reflective of the stats. For instance, Richardson's offensive production is down, but Taylor ranks among the top running backs in the league. That, in part, is due to Richardson.
"You're a true team when everybody realizes that no guy is greater than the other," Richardson said. "If the offensive line and running backs, especially the fullback, don't do their job, then we can't accomplish our team goals."
And as followers of Richardson's career know, team goals rank far ahead of any individual accomplishments – especially for a 12-year veteran who admittedly is close to the sunset of his career.
"As a fullback I look at myself as an extension of the offensive line. I've had my opportunity to carry the ball; I don't even want to do that anymore," Richardson said. "I took satisfaction when Priest Holmes broke records, I took my enjoyment when Larry Johnson rushed for 1,600 yards, I take joy in helping other guys turn great."
Richardson Seeks Contact, Not Glory
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