Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson can't help but smile. Richardson, a Missouri product who was selected No. 13 overall in April's draft, is playing the game he loves and the calendar is racing toward his NFL preseason debut in August.
"Pro football has been great. It's just a wonderful experience," he told me on our most recent "Jets Talk LIVE" installment. "I mean I'm in the NFL — that's what kids dream about. I'm living it out right now, embracing the moment."
At rookie minicamp, Rex Ryan called out Richardson for his impressive play. But the competition has been elevated throughout OTAs as veterans have joined the mix.
"You have your ups and downs, roller coasters," Richardson said. "The playbook is getting there. They're picking up their offensive scheme a lot faster. Geno is getting a lot faster with his calls and stuff. Bullets are flying out there, but for the most part — I've been getting (to) where I need to be at."
Many pundits questioned Richardson's fit with the Jets, deeming the 6'3", 294-pounder was best suited to be a one-gap lineman in a 4-3 front. But Ryan promised that Jets will employ multiple fronts and move Richardson around. And they have done just that this spring.
"Everywhere," he said when I asked him where he was being used. "A little end, a little three tech(nique), a little nose, shade, all that… The only thing I haven't done yet is play rush, so I pretty much have my hand in the dirt."
After totaling 112 tackles (54 solos), six sacks and four forced fumbles in two seasons at Mizzou, Richardson spoke about the most difficult aspect of the pro transition.
"Adjusting from a 4-3 to a 3-4, playing nose and learning the terminology," he said. "You get set in your ways in college and it's like a second language for you. It's like breathing almost and it's kind of repetitive. You just have to get used to what the coaches are saying and understanding what they mean and pick it up fast because it's the NFL. You don't have time for mistakes, shorter reps."
Richardson possesses rare athleticism. In a game against Texas A&M last season, the Missouri coaching staff had Richardson spy future Heisman Trophy Winner Johnny Manziel. The Aggies won in a rout, but Manziel didn't go crazy on the ground as he was held to 67 yards on 12 carries.
"I told him I'll do the job, but I wanted to rush him," said Richardson of the task of keeping an eye on the 6'1", 200-pound QB. "I wanted to get after him a little bit more than what I did, but somebody said he had one of his top two worst rushing games in his season. I did my job, but it was a blowout so I don't even look at what my stats were. We didn't win and it was worth nothing to me. If you don't win in the end, I'm all about winning. I want to be labeled as a winner."
Nicknamed "Boss Hogg" when he was played high school ball at Gateway Technical in St. Louis, MO, Richardson returned kicks & punt returns on special teams and played slot receiver, tight end, fullback, running back and middle linebacker.
"I played everything. I was a hog out there on the field. I ran over kids that were bigger than me and smaller than me — it didn't matter," he said. "I just ran everybody over. I was determined to win. I still am to this day and I just take it and run with it. I make sure that drive is still with me wherever I go in life."
The rookie has gained a new responsibility this offseason and it involves a little additional lifting.
"They have me on helmet duty right now, so I had to bring in like four or five helmets today," said Richardson. "It's just been great. Mo (Wilkerson) and Q (Coples) are helping me out a lot — Mo more so than Q. Just watching his film and seeing how he moves and getting his technique down. I just have to learn and pretty much make it my own like I always do."