If New Orleans Saints defensive end/linebacker Jay Richardson didn’t have enough motivation to play a preseason game in his bid to return to the NFL, and he did, all he had to do was look at the exhibition schedule.
Actually, he didn’t need any motivation at all after not playing in a regular season game since 2010. But when the Saints’ preseason schedule came out in late March, there was something extra for him to get up about.
When the Saints (1-0) take on the Oakland Raiders (1-0) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at 7 p.m. Friday, Richardson will line up against the team that cast him aside in 2009 after starting 11 games in each of his first two seasons.
While most veteran players detest preseason games, Richardson, who recorded two tackles and had a fumble recovery in last week’s win against the Kansas City Chiefs, can’t wait.
“I love this … it’s been a good time,” Richardson said of a three-week training camp grind that ended Thursday.
But getting an opportunity in a training camp after not playing in a regular season game since 2010, when he was with the Seattle Seahawks, is one thing.
Facing the Raiders is something else altogether.
“This game means more to me than people know,” Richardson said this week. “I can’t wait. I’m not lacking any motivation this week.”
After playing three seasons with the Raiders, his first two under new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Richardson was released after suffering a torn meniscus in preseason in 2010.
Richardson, 29, later played with the Seahawks in the second half of 2010 and was out of football in 2011. He was with the New York Jets, playing for Ryan’s twin brother, Rex, in 2012 but was released on the final cuts.
The Saints signed him to a futures contract in early January, just a month before coach Sean Payton hired Ryan to be his new defensive coordinator and implement a 3-4 scheme.
That made his decision to try perhaps one last comeback bid even better.
“When I heard he was coming, I was obviously excited,” Richardson, a fifth-round draft pick in 2007, said. “He brings a lot of energy, and he’s a brilliant guy. He’s a player’s coach. He calls the defenses around the players he has, and he makes sure everybody has a role.”
That played right into Richardson’s hands when the Saints started having injury problems at outside linebacker.
They lost Victor Butler to a torn ACL during organized team activities in June before Martez Wilson and Junior Galette also suffered injuries early in training camp even though they’re expected to return before the regular season begins.
Richardson was moved to linebacker before the Chiefs game and has been working exclusively there to help out. He followed Will Smith and Galette, who also moved to linebacker after playing their entire careers as ends in the old 4-3 scheme.
Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson certainly didn’t like losing Richardson to linebackers coach Joe Vitt, but he knew his versatility would be an asset to the defense.
“He’s a thief,” a smiling Johnson said of Vitt. “I love Jay Richardson because he’s a passionate and loves the game of football. Any time a man sits on the street, he’s going to get that hunger again.”
While he’s a 4-3 end by trade, Richardson didn’t mind going to linebacker. The only difference, he noted, was that he has more coverage duties and play more in space.
“A big thing is angles,” he said. “Playing linebacker is all about angles and timing. I played some 3-4 concepts with the Raiders part of the time and I did that with the Jets at the end of the preseason last summer. So it’s not really that much different for me.
“It’s just football at the end of the day. You just have a lot of subtle nuances when you’re playing outside linebacker as opposed to defensive end.
If playing both positions, or just outside linebacker, is what he has to do to earn a roster spot, that’s fine with him.
“Things happen, and guys get banged up,” Richardson said. “It was a lot of fun last week, and it’s fun to start, but it’s just good to be back out there. I was just trying to make sure I was good in my drops and looked like an outside linebacker.”
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