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Sheldon Richardson wants to be in elite company

Sheldon Richardson speaks to reporters in the locker

Sheldon Richardson speaks to reporters in the locker room of the Jets training facility in Florham Park, N.J. (Dec. 30, 2013) Credit: AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Sophomore slump? Please.

Sheldon Richardson has no intentions of slipping up or slowing down.

The Jets defensive tackle is very clear about his expectations for Year 2. And Richardson -- the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 -- won't quit until he's mentioned with the best defensive linemen in the game.

"Well one's on my team right now," he said, referring to Jets defensive star Muhammad Wilkerson.

In a quiet corner of the Jets locker room Tuesday, Richardson recited more names: J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills and Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts.

"Those guys are the ones whose names you hear constantly, week in and week out," Richardson told Newsday.

He eventually hopes to be thought of the same way.

"When you mention their names, I just want to make sure somebody throws my name in there a bunch, too. That's all," he said, laughing. "Even if I'm one of the last ones to get thrown in there, I don't care. I just want to be in there."

For Richardson, it's all about earning respect, not just for himself, but also for his teammates.

But it won't be easy for the Jets, considering who they'll see in the first half of the season. In Weeks 2 through 7, they'll face the Packers, Bears, Lions, Chargers, Broncos and Patriots -- a pretty tough stretch against several good teams.

"Good receiving corps," Richardson said with a laugh, interrupting his interviewer. "We wouldn't call them good teams.

"We'll just take it one day at a time, one rep at a time. Those guys put pads on the same way we do. It's just all about how we embrace the moment and seize the opportunity at hand. So if we go out and beat them, then we'll be looked at how we're supposed to be looked at: as a top-notch defense and a top-notch team."

Richardson opened eyes last season as the 13th overall pick, and he proved to be a valuable asset on both sides of the ball: 78 combined tackles, 31/2 sacks and two touchdowns in 16 games. He won't settle for any drop-off this season.

He doesn't write down specific goals on slips of paper or give detailed statistics of what he hopes to accomplish. Instead, he speaks in more general terms about what he expects of himself, and that's staying focused and consistent.

It sounds simple. And, truth be told, Richardson often makes it seem so.

But he does recognize his opponents will be keying on him now more than ever.

"Guys are going to attack me more," Richardson said. "I don't think they're going to let me get away with as many tackles as I did last year. A lot of those guys let me go cause I didn't have a name in the league.

"So I guess I've got a little name now. So we've got to see. I've got to work extra hard."

A little name?

He laughed again.

"I've got a little name in the league. Nothing major. Not yet," he said. "I'm not respected as a top defensive lineman. So I'm not respected at the level I want to be respected at."

But the second-year lineman has more immediate goals in mind: a Super Bowl ring and a Pro Bowl nod.

"I'm putting in work, day in and day out to win a Super Bowl," Richardson said. "Reach for the stars and come down with a cloud -- the cloud being a Pro Bowl."

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