For a unit that lacked playmakers in 2013, the Green Bay Packers have to be pleased with what they've seen from third-year safety Sean Richardson early in training camp.
A few days after picking off Aaron Rodgers, Richardson scored his second interception of camp off a Matt Flynn flea flicker during an early pursuit-and-leverage period of practice.
Richardson, 24, wasn't known for turnovers during his time at Vanderbilt – he had one interception and a forced fumble in 49 collegiate games – but he's been active during the early part of camp. Along with the interception, he showed his strength in laying out rookie tight end Richard Rodgers after a catch in another team period.
He had been rotating with Chris Banjo next to first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the second-team secondary before Morgan Burnett dropped out of practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. With Clinton-Dix working with the starters, it's presented extra reps for both Richardson and Banjo.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he's uncertain of how much time Burnett will miss, but it's up to the remaining safeties to step up in his absence. Even before the injury, Richardson has been answering the call.
"I think Sean Richardson is having an excellent training camp," McCarthy said. "He's done a lot of good things. He had an interception today in the pursuit drill, the pursuit screens and finish drill there to start off practice. He did some real good things early in the week on special teams."
His 6-foot-2, 216-pound stature made him an attractive undrafted free agent for the Packers in 2012, but a neck injury sustained near the end of his rookie season sidelined him for 10½ months and forced him out of last year's training camp.
After getting the green light from team doctor Pat McKenzie to return, Richardson played in six games with 13 tackles to finish the season. M.D. Jennings' year-long struggles afforded both him and Banjo defensive snaps late season, but also led to the first-round selection of Clinton-Dix in May's draft.
Richardson's biggest asset is his ability to play the run. On the other hand, many scouts believed his limited coverage skills were one of the reasons why he was restricted to playing inside the box during college.
Richardson has said in the past the amount of time he missed allowed him to become more of a student of the game.
"We were having a conversation (Wednesday) and he said he knows a lot more of the playbook this year than he did last year, and you can tell," Packers defensive back Micah Hyde said. He's out there being confident with his calls and making plays. With him being so big and being able to come up and support the run, he's like another linebacker that can move."
Five practices into training camp, the positives have outweighed the negatives, though Richardson was late to converge on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson from Aaron Rodgers in a red-zone period on Wednesday.
Still, his interceptions off Rodgers and Flynn are welcomed in a safety room that failed to produce one in 16 regular-season games in 2013. The Packers are hoping either Clinton-Dix or Hyde can help the safety's turnover drought, but Richardson's early successes have drawn attention.
A little more than a week away from the preseason opener against Tennessee, each opportunity is magnified going forward.
"I thought he did a phenomenal job, especially for the type of injury he had," Banjo said. "The way he came in, he still had that physical knack about him in terms of hitting anything that moves. Even now, the type of practice he had (Thursday)."
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