Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Jets matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m., at MetLife Stadium
Raiders RG Austin Howard vs. Jets LDE Sheldon Richardson
Tale of the tape:
Howard (77): 6-foot-7, 330 pounds, fifth season, Northern Iowa
Richardson (91): 6-foot-3, 294 pounds, second season, Missouri
Austin Howard was the Jets starting right tackle the past two seasons. His first game against a new team will be against his old team, in the stadium where he rose to prominence.
He’ll be matching up against an old friend and new foe in defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson in Sunday’s regular-season opener.
Richardson, for one, is excited about the prospect.
“I’ve been waiting on that one. I circled it on the calendar,” Richardson said. “We were cool when he was here. We went against each other in practice and stuff, but now it’s for a whole game so I just can’t wait to see how it turns out.”
Howard is also looking forward to sparring with an old teammate.
“I’m glad he’s excited,” Howard said. “That lets me know that he respects me and he’s preparing. I wouldn’t expect anything less. Don’t think for a second I won’t be motivated, too.”
Howard would be motivated even if Richardson was a complete stranger. Richardson was last year’s defensive rookie of the year, and can cause havoc in the trenches. Howard understands his performance will be as key as any in this game. The Raiders must run well to control possession and keep pressure off rookie quarterback Derek Carr, making his NFL debut against a tough defense.
It’s also Howard’s first regular-season game at guard. The Raiders converted him this offseason after signing him in free agency. The transition isn’t easy, but Howard’s evolved to a point where be can be a difficult opponent at the guard spot.
“He’s a big, powerful, physical presence inside,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. "Really, (offensive line coach Tony Sparano) had an opportunity to be there when he was with the Jets and Austin was there and they worked him some inside at guard, so we had a little insider information to know there was certainly that potential. I think he’s done a nice job in the transition. … He’s come a long way from when we first got him and I’m excited about watching him go out and play in a real live game at offensive guard.”
Howard worked his way through the ranks at tackle, and earned a permanent spot with the Jets after unheralded stints with Philadelphia and Baltimore. That put Howard in position to sign a five-year deal worth up to $30 million this offseason. The Jets were certainly sorry to let him go.
“It’s tough to lose a guy, a young player that really fits the mold that you look for,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “We’re really proud of his development. But the credit goes to him. He’s the guy that pushed himself and did everything and made himself become an outstanding football player. That’s the type of young man he is. People might not know his name, but they’re going to. He’s really an excellent player.”