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Pepper Johnson could have something special when Sheldon Richardson is ready to go all-out

New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91)

New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91) takes part in drills during practice at training camp, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Florham Park, N.J. Credit: AP / Frank Franklin II

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Pepper Johnson is reserving judgment for the time being.

Sheldon Richardson's return to the Jets' active roster on Monday was a welcome sign for the Jets' defensive line coach. But after playing 13 years in the NFL and winning two Super Bowl rings with the Giants, Johnson knows that roster potential on paper means nothing if his players don't produce on game day.

So for now, he's not sure what Richardson's return to the lineup will mean for his defensive line.

"Until he gets back, until he gets out there and plays, I really don't know," Johnson told reporters Monday after the Jets' first practice following their bye week. " . . . Practice was just a move around. It wasn't [anything] that's going to make me jump on the table or hold my head down."

Coach Todd Bowles said the first order of business is getting Richardson back in "football shape" after a month-long hiatus out of pads.

"Let him run around, get his wind and his football legs under him. Game plan-wise, we'll see where we can fit him in," Bowles said of Richardson, who officially returned Monday after serving his four-game suspension.

For now it's unclear how much he'll play Sunday against Washington (2-3), but Bowles left no doubt that No. 91 will be on the field.

"Oh, he's definitely going to play," he said.

But while Bowles and Johnson remain low-key about Richardson's arrival, fans and some media members are predicting big things for a Jets defensive line that already boasts Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, rookie Leonard Williams and Leger Douzable. Now the question is: How exactly will the Jets play all these guys?

"That's [up to] coach Bowles," Johnson said, smiling. "My hat is off to him. I think he does a tremendous job of communicating with us, the coaches, on how he foresees the game, how he foresees the players playing. That's on him. He makes that call."

Instead, Johnson said he'll coach whichever combination of players is out there -- whether it's four linemen or only one or two.

Richardson could face additional discipline from the NFL because of his July 14 arrest in Missouri after a street-racing incident, but he's just eager to get back to work. And he had a message for his linemates when he returned: "I'm coming to eat, too."

As for what his arrival means for opposing offenses, Richardson smiled and said: "No breaks for quarterbacks."

Johnson, however, is taking the long view when it comes to his defensive line. Right now, he's focused on getting his players, Richardson included, up to speed and playing at the high level he demands.

So that means he won't be making any bold proclamations about his players. At least not anytime soon.

"I've been to championships," Johnson said. " . . . I know it's a long season, I just want a lot. I know, I hope and I pray for that day to come where we become that team [for which] people are preparing for us a lot different and not just looking at us as somebody who had a good run in September. That they're really grinding and preparing for us and trying to defend us off because they're going to take us serious.

"When that day comes, then the eyes will open, when they're going to double-team Muhammad, when they're going to double-team Leonard, when they're going to double- team Sheldon. How can you double-team 'Snacks' [Harrison]? There's not enough people out there on the field to do that. That one guy that gets the solo block has to make plays for us. We cannot be selfish, we have to help our teammates out and we have to be aware of when that's going to come and those things happen. I've been there. That's what I'm trying to preach to my players."


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