FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — For the first time in a long time, Sheldon Richardson entered training camp with only football on his mind.
There are no headlines hanging over his head, no looming suspensions for past transgressions and no immediate questions about his future with the Jets, the team that drafted him 13th overall in 2013.
“Ya’ll are different this year,” the fifth-year defensive end playfully told reporters Saturday. “Man, what’s up? Ya’ll don’t have any questions for me [because] I ain’t in trouble or something? What’s wrong?”
Richardson served suspensions to start the 2015 and 2016 seasons because of a failed drug test and an arrest after a high-speed chase with St. Louis police in July 2015. But as he heads into a contract year — playing for the same organization he predicted would trade him — Richardson is at peace with himself and is focused on being a disruptive force on defense.
“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “Keep a smile on my face. My daughter [Riley Rose] just turned 1 yesterday, man, so I’m not really worried about nothing.
“I’m a [grown] man. Make mistakes, you deal with the consequences. That’s all you can do. Keep moving forward.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles has seen the transformation firsthand, noting that Richardson is “in a good place,” but he added that he’s still the same ol’ Sheldon at heart. “[He’s] always been a candid guy and he’s always been endearing . . . He’s a heck of a guy. He’s in a peaceful place. I can’t put a finger on it, but he comes in, he’s focused. He’s at peace with himself, he understands what he’s doing, he’s working hard with the rest of the guys and getting better with the rest of the team.”
Richardson’s strong dislike for former teammate Brandon Marshall hasn’t changed, though.
Told that the current Giants receiver said in a recent radio interview that he requested his release from the Jets because “I wouldn’t have made it through an entire season knowing that we didn’t have a chance,’’ Richardson delivered another dig. “Who?” he asked repeatedly. “I haven’t heard that name in a while. I don’t care what that guy says . . . I have no thoughts about it. None at all.”
But while he pretended not to remember Marshall, Richardson made it clear that he’s looking forward to facing the Giants — and his former teammate.
“Definitely,” he said before playing coy again. “I just like the Snoopy Bowl. It’s a fun environment, man.”
Asked if he was surprised by Marshall’s comments, Richardson chuckled: “Nothing surprises me. Nothing.”
With his feud with Marshall a thing of the past (we think?), Richardson is focused on getting better as an overall football player, perfecting the details of his game (“I age like fine wine,” he noted with a smile) and seeing linemates Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson make plays, too.
When he was asked what he hopes to see during training camp, the first thing Richardson said was camaraderie. “Guys knowing what they’re supposed to do,” he added. “Guys willing to make plays — myself included. And being better.”
Richardson, 26, is coming to terms with being one of the veterans on a young, rebuilding team. “It’s crazy, ain’t it?” he said, smiling again. “It’s sad, so sad. I’m one of the older guys now. Take it with a grain of salt. Guys ask me questions, I’ve got answers for them. If I don’t, tell the coach or someone I think has answers for them. Me personally, leadership-wise, keeping guys going, Training camp can get grueling. That’s what I’m here for: keep those guys fresh, keep them going.”
Despite the trade rumors that followed him last season, Richardson maintains his commitment to being a Jet for life. He hopes his time in green and white lasts several more seasons.
“This organization is amazing,” he said. “[We’re] well taken care of . . . Some things we handle that’s not perfect. But really, I just like being here.”
With a strong 2017 campaign, Richardson (who had 1 1⁄2 sacks a year ago) could dictate his price on the open market. But cashing in isn’t his immediate concern.
“I’m motivated every year,” he said. “We’ll see when the time gets here.”