New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson talks with reporters at NFL football training camp in Florham Park, N.J., Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Adam Hunger
October 12, 2015

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) The toughest part for Sheldon Richardson was sitting and watching while his New York Jets teammates played - and mostly won - without him.

An NFL-issued suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy cost the defensive end the first four games of the season. So, while the Jets jumped to a 3-1 start, Richardson rooted for his team as a spectator, just like any other fan.

''It was real difficult, but I brought it on myself,'' Richardson said Monday. ''I just had to deal with it. It's a blessing to be back.''

Richardson practiced with the team, which returned from its bye-week break, for the first time since the preseason. He was added to the active roster and New York waived tight end Wes Saxton to make room.

''It was good, getting back with my guys, the camaraderie, I missed that,'' Richardson said. ''Watching football isn't my thing.''

Coach Todd Bowles announced that Richardson is ''definitely going to play'' in New York's home game against Washington on Sunday, although his role is uncertain. Bowles wants Richardson to get back into ''football shape'' and added that rookie Leonard Williams will continue to see regular playing time despite Richardson coming back.

Williams, the team's first-round draft pick, has been solid in his NFL debut and played perhaps his best game in the Jets' win over Miami in London before the bye.

''It was tough seeing plays you know you could make,'' Richardson said. ''It was tough dealing with that. Now I'm back here and I realize I'm going to have to work for my spot because (Williams) is playing so well.''

New York has the second-ranked overall defense, even without Richardson. Adding him to the likes of Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Leger Douzable could make the Jets' defensive line flat-out scary - something that has Richardson excited.

''I'm coming,'' he said. ''I'm coming to eat, too.''

Richardson could face additional discipline from the league later this season or next year after his arrest on charges of resisting arrest in Missouri in July. That incident came 12 days after his marijuana suspension was announced by the league.

In that case, Richardson was road racing at speeds up to 143 mph, with one of his passengers a 12-year-old boy. Police smelled the odor of burnt marijuana in the car and found a loaded gun under the driver's seat. Richardson didn't alert the Jets when it happened, with the team instead finding out from media reports during training camp. He could be disciplined by the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy, but the league could wait until the legal process plays out.

Richardson's next court hearing is Nov. 9.

''He's kept his mouth clean and his nose clean,'' Bowles said. ''It's an ongoing process. I don't think you learn a lesson in a month or so. It's an ongoing deal that will be answered later in life.''

For the last few weeks, Richardson was allowed to attend meetings and work out on his own at the facility, but he could not practice. He found himself a part of the team, but apart from the team.

''It was strange,'' he said. ''That was something mentally I had to deal with. Going from team MVP to not playing, so that was a lot. Pro Bowl season to not playing, that was a lot to deal with. (I was) down on myself, but I'm all right now. Just deal with it one day at a time.''

Richardson spoke to a counselor to sort through things and leaned on his friends, family and teammates, all of whom helped him get back on the field with the right mindset.

''I love my teammates,'' Richardson said. ''These guys looked after me, took care of me. After every game, they would talk to me, make sure I was doing OK. My parents, my brothers, family and friends - everybody in my circle who was supposed to be there was there.''

Richardson insisted he has put the suspension behind him, and is focused fully on football. He wants to get as much production out of the season as he can, starting Sunday against the Redskins. The snaps, he believes, will come - as long as he can shake off the rust and quickly return to being the player who was widely recognized as one of the league's top young defensive linemen.

''I feel like I can force that issue a little bit,'' Richardson said with a big grin, ''but we'll see.''

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