GREEN BAY, Wis. — Sean Richardson is anxious. He’s also fortunate. Watching from the sidelines while his teammates compete hasn’t been easy for the Green Bay Packers’ second-year safety, but Richardson’s positive progress since undergoing neck surgery in January has given him hope that he’ll soon be back on the field.
“I’m close to 100 percent,” Richardson said in the locker room. “We don’t have a timetable yet, but we’re taking it day by day, step by step. Rehab is going great. I’ll be back soon. I’m pretty close.”
Late last season, Richardson wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with him. He suffered a back injury in Week 12 and started experiencing back spasms in the days following that game.
“The neck really didn’t bother me at all,” Richardson said. “It was more of my back. I practiced a few days and it got a lot better, so I thought I’d be fine for the next game. But that Friday, it was just precautionary that they wanted to check it out and see what it looked like.
“That’s when I got the bad news.”
The bad news was that Richardson was placed on injured reserve and that his injury would require surgery.
“A herniated disk in the neck,” Richardson said. “That’s pretty serious.”
Understanding that the results of this surgery could affect not only his NFL career but also his post-football life, Richardson began doing extensive homework on surgeons. The recommendations he received came back almost unanimously that Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon Robert Watkins was his best option.
“He’s the same guy that did Peyton Manning’s surgery,” Richardson said. “When I went there, I was amazed at how many players had been out there and had the same injury I had. He was one of the best (surgeons), if not the best.
“It gave me a lot of hope, because when he said Peyton Manning, I know Peyton Manning wanted the best. He went out looking for the best and he’s one of the best. I felt pretty confident. (Watkins) had done the surgery multiple times.”
Once Richardson found his surgeon, there was still a lot of uncertainty surrounding his injury. Richardson was told that a two-level fusion may have to be performed but that it wouldn’t be determined until the operation had begun.
Fortunately for Richardson, that additional surgical work wasn’t necessary.
“After the surgery (Watkins) said it wasn’t nearly as bad as they thought it was, and that was a great sign,” Richardson said. “There wasn’t any nerve damage, so that was a plus. A lot of things that they had planned on doing in the neck they didn’t have to do, so it was great.”
Richardson was then put on bed rest for a few weeks and told not to do anything. Soon after, his early rehabilitation work involved exercises to improve the muscles around his neck. Having avoided any setbacks in his recovery, Richardson was able to progress quickly throughout this offseason.
“It’s been a long journey, but I’ve been staying focused and positive,” Richardson said. “The coaches and the players are keeping me up, and the trainers are doing a great job. The doctor did a great job. The injury, it doesn’t give me any problems.
“I actually forget I had the surgery. Someone reminded me, like, ‘Hey, how’s your neck?’ Other than that, I feel fine.”
Richardson’s recovery involves five steps. The first three steps are already cleared, and by next week, he could be down to his final one.
“I already had the big steps,” Richardson said. “After the doctors see and give their opinions of the result of the MRI, that’ll be the final step then. Fingers crossed and praying that everything will be all right.”
If all goes as planned, Richardson expects to be medically cleared in time for training camp. That would give the 23-year-old a chance to compete at a position that is one of the Packers’ thinnest groups. Morgan Burnett will be a starter at safety, but a battle between Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings for the other starting spot could have a third contender if Richardson can make the Year 1 to Year 2 jump that coach Mike McCarthy often preaches.
“There’s an opportunity to compete, and that’s what we do,” Richardson said. “No jobs out there are solidified. We all just go out there and compete and it makes us better. We see it as a group. We’re really close. We don’t see it as, ‘I need to take his job,’ or anything like that. We just go out, compete, try to get better as a unit and that’s what makes the team better.”
Richardson made the team as an undrafted rookie last season due to his special teams play and his potential at safety. At 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, Richardson is long, athletic and physical.
“I wasn’t always the best player on the field, but I always worked hard, I always competed and I played with a passion,” Richardson said. “That’s what got me here. That’s what’s keeping me going now. That’s what’s helped me through the surgery and the rehab a lot.
“I’d like to be out there to contribute and showcase my talent. Just as soon as I get cleared from the doctor, I’ll be out there.”