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Teammates show support for Jets' Sheldon Richardson

New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson practices

New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson practices during training camp at the team's practice facility in Florham Park, N.J. on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

Sheldon Richardson stood before his teammates and bared his soul.

He had failed them and he had failed himself. Not once, but twice. But rather than turn their backs on him, Richardson's football family showed him unconditional love.

About nine or 10 teammates voiced their support after the Jets defensive tackle said his piece to the group last week.

"Demario Davis stepped up big," slot receiver Jeremy Kerley told Newsday on Sunday after the team's fourth training camp practice.

And each player who spoke up shared the same refrain to their wayward teammate: "You're our brother."

"He was emotional," Kerley said of Richardson, recalling the "open discussion" the team had after news broke of his recent arrest in Missouri. "Everything he does is emotional. When he plays, he's emotional. When he jokes, he's emotional. He's an emotional dude. So when he came in, you could just tell he was sincere about it. You can tell that he was hurting. He felt like he really let the team down."

Just three weeks after the NFL suspended Richardson for four regular-season games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2014 Pro Bowler was charged with resisting arrest and several traffic violations after he fled from Missouri police following a street race on July 14.

The 24-year-old Richardson did not inform the Jets of his arrest until after the news broke on social media late Thursday afternoon.

Now the question is: What kind of punishment will the league office dole out?

"With this guy we have as commissioner, man, you never really know," outside linebacker Calvin Pace said of Roger Goodell, who has developed a reputation among players for being inconsistent when it comes to punishment. "I hope for the best, but you just never know. I guess it probably would be a little different if he hadn't gotten suspended right before that."

Jets coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan expressed disappointment with Richardson's alleged reckless behavior, but they also showed compassion and a willingness to get him the help he needs.

"You know, I liked the way that this team rallied around him and picked him up," Kerley said. "I think that made Sheldon feel good."

News of his arrest came as "a shock" to Kerley, who sits right beside Richardson in the Jets' locker room. The two have become close since Richardson was drafted 13th overall in 2013. And that's why Kerley didn't hesitate to reach out after this latest off-the-field incident.

"I texted him as soon as it happened," said Kerley, 26, a married father of three. "I look at Sheldon like we're little brother, big brother. I just told him, what's done in the dark eventually comes to the light. That's how I live my life and that's what I stand by.

"I told him, just know that I'm your bro. If you ever just want to get some stuff off your chest, don't feel like a stranger. That's what I tried to get through to him."

No one knows for certain if Richardson has truly learned his lesson, but Pace seems confident that he has.

"I believe in him and I believe he's going to do the right thing. I really do," Pace said. "Now, what's he going to do a month from now? I don't know. But my hope is that he walks a straight path and he serves whatever suspension they give him and he just comes back better for it. He apologized, and that's enough for me."

There's no question Richardson's absence will be a big loss for the Jets' defensive line. But in some ways, Kerley believes his teammate's arrest could be a blessing in disguise -- and perhaps the catalyst that forces Richardson to change his life for the better.

"Everything happens for a reason. This was just the wake-up call," Kerley said.

"But as far as being on the field, you know Sheldon's a beast. That I never question. When he gets on this field, he's going to handle his thing because he plays with his heart. And that's the best thing for him right now -- being in camp, getting comfortable with the dudes and being in this environment instead of somewhere else.

"I take it as a good thing it happened because, maybe, he just needed to open up his eyes to something."


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