ST. LOUIS — Daryl Richardson will tell you this was his vision all along.
“Of course,” he says. “I know hard work pays off. You keep working hard, and you just keep praying. And believe.”
The undersized, small-school running back was the longest of long shots when the St. Louis Rams selected him with their 252nd pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. That left him one spot removed from Mr. Irrelevant, the designation for the last pick in the draft.
Now, he’s the Rams’ starting running back headed into Sunday’s season opener.
“I’m extremely excited,” he says. “Joyful.”
The man of few words has let his work on the field make his case. When Steven Jackson, the staple of the St. Louis backfield for nearly a decade, departed for Atlanta, Richardson realized what it meant.
“There’s competition,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said June 4. “One of the guys — one, or two, or maybe even three — competing right now are going to end up playing in ball games. We’re not just going to have a one-man rotation thing where we give one guy the job, and let the others watch. They all have different skills, so we plan on using them differently.”
Fisher, who named Richardson the starter less than two months later, seems to have shifted stances.
“He (Richardson) can play all day long,” Fisher said Thursday. “He knows if he gets tired, we’ve got some solid guys to back him up.”
Richardson thrust himself into the spotlight, pushing past fellow second-year back Isaiah Pead, who was drafted 202 spots higher the same year. He changed the notion of the Rams using a running back by committee.
Yes, others (Pead, along with rookies Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy) will get carries. But a starter has been named for a reason. Now the question becomes: Can Richardson hold the role?
“The only thing going through Daryl’s mind right now is to be productive, and help this team win,” Fisher says.
It’s nice of the coach to downplay the pressure. Yet Richardson is fully aware of the responsibility that comes with his promotion. Part of his preparation for stepping into Jackson’s shoes has been talking to Jackson. The two communicate almost daily, through phone calls and text messages.
“He always gives me great advice,” Richardson says. “He tells me not to take anything for granted. To go out and work every day.”
That the former Rams star still mentors his former understudy says something about Jackson. It also says something about Richardson. He’s eager for guidance, because he is still getting used to this.
A perfect example came Thursday, when Richardson spoke to the media horde gathered around his locker. Last year, Thursdays were Jackson’s days to talk.
“We can do this just like we did with Steven Jackson,” a reporter said. “Thursdays with Daryl.”
“Thursdays with Daryl,” Richardson repeated, with a smile.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.