ST. LOUIS – Not Sam Bradford. Not Steven Jackson. Not James Laurinaitis or Chris Long.
Asked what he saw after reviewing the game film of their disappointing 20-19 preseason loss to the Dallas Cowboys Saturday, new Rams coach Jeff Fisher singled out the positive play of just one player: rookie running back Daryl Richardson.
Expected just to compete for one of the final roster spots, the seventh round pick has taken his opportunity and run with it. Literally. He’s been impressive enough that he’s likely to split time with rookie Isiaah Pead as the No. 2 running back behind Jackson.
“He missed the first start of camp with the hamstring, but he worked hard at it and got it back and when he stepped back on the field, he knew what he was doing,” Fisher said. “He’s not making mistakes. He feels good. He’s explosive and you just kind of wait for that one that goes to the house.”
Pead figured to be the odds on favorite to back up for Jackson when the Rams took him in the second round out of Cincinnati. But with the second-to-last-pick in the draft, the Rams took the little-known Richardson out of Abilene Christian University in hopes of creating a little competition.
And it’s worked out better than they could have imagined.
While Pead missed some of the summer workouts because of an NFL rule that required him to stay away until Cincinnati finished the semester, Richardson got plenty of extra work. And the speedster with the dreadlocks has kept on running.
Richardson rushed for 867 yards as a senior at Abilene Christian, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and coring 11 touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes out of the backfield for 371 yards and two touchdowns.
But despite the productive stats, Richardson was a relatively unknown commodity until his Pro Day – when he showed off a 40 ½ inch vertical leap and a 11-3 broad jump. While teams began contacting him about signing as an undrafted free agent, the Rams swooped in at pick No. 252 – just one ahead of the infamous Mr. Irrelevant – and took what they hoped was a very relevant pick.
“It’s been a blessing really,” the soft-spoken Richardson says. “I just want to thank God and the Rams for this opportunity. It’s been a good experience. Everything is going good.
“I think I’ve performed pretty good. I’m just trying to be 100 percent in my assignments and techniques. You just have to come out and work everyday and try to get better and perfect your craft. Just get better every day, study and focus.”
Asked about missing the first 10 days of training camp with the hamstring injury, Richardson said, “I was very concerned because I wasn’t practicing and we were in training camp I was missing it and I was trying to make the team still so I was just trying to get back out here as soon as possible.”
Richardson leads the Rams with 90 yards rushing in three preseason games on 22 carries. He’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry and has one touchdown. Pead figures to get plenty of time as a returner on special teams. And he’ll get carries as the backup running back as well. But once figured to be the perfect complementary back to Jackson, Pead hasn’t had much success running the ball so far.
While Fisher is quick to point out that Pead hasn’t been helped by poor blocking in front of him, the rookie has just 50 yards rushing on 25 carries.
“He just really hasn’t been given an opportunity to hit a crease and show what he can do,” Fisher said. “The game did slow down a little bit for him after Week 1. I think from a run skill standpoint, all you have to do is look at those two kickoff returns and you’ll get a sense of what he can do in the open field.”
When asked Tuesday if the team had a backup running back, Fisher looked out towards the players and joked, “Yes, we have a couple. There’s actually three of them.”
Pressed if a decision had been made on which one would get the bulk of the carries behind Jackson, Fisher said he expected both Richardson and Pead to see time in the backfield this year.
And that’s more than Richardson could have ever hoped for a couple months ago.