COMMENTARY | New York Jets' defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson spoke about his experiences so far with the Jets at OTAs. He expressed excitement and made note of the extent to which the Jets are expecting him to be versatile and to play multiple roles.
Versatility is Key
When Richardson spoke to Eric Allen of NewYorkJets.com, he made note of the number of ways in which head coach Rex Ryan is using him defensively. Said Richardson, "[I've been used] everywhere. A little end, a little three [technique], 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."
Richardson is referring to the rush linebacker position, the one position where he has not yet been used. Rush linebacker is a hybrid of defensive end and outside linebacker, a position that can either have hands on the ground or up in the air prior to the snap.
Simply put, Richardson is being used everywhere across the defensive line, both along the interior and the exterior. What we are seeing so far in OTAs is that the Jets are trying to maximize flexibility along the line. We have seen Quinton Coples play just about everywhere, including rush linebacker. We also know that Muhammad Wilkerson can line up both on the inside and the outside.
This versatility is perhaps why the Jets targeted Richardson in the draft.
Reaching for Richardson
I was not the only one who was a bit surprised when the Jets drafted Richardson in the first round with the number 13 overall pick. Star Lotulelei was so much more talked about leading up to the draft that it was unexpected for him to be passed up by so many teams and to be chosen after Richardson.
I withheld judgment on Richardson because I think defensive line is the one position where you absolutely have to trust Rex Ryan. According to general manager John Idzik, both he and Ryan had Richardson as as one of their top four overall draft prospects.
Ryan began his career as a defensive line coach in Baltimore with the Ravens where he won a Super Bowl. That Ravens team is often viewed as the classic example of a defense-heavy team being able to win a Super Bowl (I do not count the 1985 Chicago Bears here because they had a good offense as well).
The Richardson pick will have to pay off in a big way in order for it to make sense in retrospect. This is the third straight year that the Jets have drafted a defensive lineman in the first round. In order for the Jets to succeed this season, their line will have to be great, not just good.
For the moment, Richardson appears have a very positive attitude and seems to be loving his situation on the team. As Richardson said (also via Eric Allen), "It's just a wonderful experience. I mean I'm in the NFL. That's what kids dream about... It's just been great. [Muhammad Wilkerson] and [Quinton Coples] are helping me out a lot."
A great deal rides on the success of the Jets' defensive line group this year. If things go according to plan, references will no doubt be made to the Jets' Sack Exchange of the early 1980s. If things go awry, it could mean a disappointing season is in the works.
Richardson clearly has the right attitude. If he is lucky, that will transfer into personal and team success in a few months.
Adam Waksman is a Yahoo! contributor in sports. He also covers the New York Jets for Bleacher Report, where he is a Featured Columnist and award-winning blogger.
You can follow Adam on Twitter here.
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