FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Trust takes time. Especially for someone like Sheldon Richardson.
The Jets defensive tackle is guarded by nature, a person who prefers to keep family close and most outsiders at arm’s length. But part of his offseason growth was realizing that he doesn’t know everything.
“I got my head right,” Richardson said Monday.
It’s been a tumultuous two years for the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, who dealt with the murder of a close family friend in January 2014, a coaching staff shake-up last year and separate suspensions for two off-the-field incidents during the 2015 offseason. But part of Richardson’s maturation process was recognizing when he needs help.
Assistant coach Pepper Johnson is happy to see the change.
“What I appreciate from him is that he’s getting more confidence in me,” the Jets’ second-year defensive line coach said. “So he’s asking me questions and he’s kind of referring to me now more than what he did last year, [when he was] trying to get some things accomplished himself. I just try to relate to him that I’m here to help.”
Richardson said he’s more obedient and open-minded this season, and that he’s far more receptive to constructive criticism. “I’m a little more compliant this year,” said Richardson, who was suspended for the Sept. 11 season opener for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. (He also missed Weeks 1-4 in 2015 because of a failed marijuana test.)
“Last year, I was a little more hardheaded. I felt my way worked. I felt like I knew the system. We were trying new stuff, so I just was being hardheaded. That’s all.”
Asked what helped him get his head right, he replied: “Life.”
The change couldn’t have come at a better time for Richardson and the Jets’ line, which already has been billed as one of the best in the NFL. Along with Richardson, Johnson has versatile Leonard Williams, end Muhammad Wilkerson and newcomer Steve McLendon at his disposal. Johnson is eager to see their progress.
“I have a great room,” he said, smiling, when asked about the big personalities on the line. “It’s a lot of guys who communicate well with each other, get along with each other, and it shows out there on the field. And hopefully this season, you guys will really see it. You’ll see a lot of guys who are enthusiastic, with a lot of energy and happy for each other. And that’s what makes a good group.”
The expectations for the unit are sky-high, but Johnson is concerned only about seeing continued improvement from his guys. “I want smart players,” he said. “I want physical players. I want guys having fun. But at the same token, understand they’re professional. Other than that, sorry. I don’t care too much about what’s being said on the outside.”
Also, he couldn’t care less about individual stats. “Someone [focused on] individual accomplishments, that’s fine and dandy. But what did we do as a group and as a unit, to me, carries more weight,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen a lot more championships won that way.”
And his D-line group is following his lead. Including Richardson.
Asked what would make this season a success for him personally, he said: “We win. Period.”