Prying eyes are always on Raiders running back Trent Richardson.
It’s been that way as long as he can remember, before he became a five-star recruit out of Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia High.
The prep All-American starred at Alabama, where he won two national titles, became a Heisman Trophy finalist and was eventually draft No. 3 overall in the 2011 draft. The spotlight never dimmed, even as professional disappointment transitioned Richardson from famous to infamous.
Richardson is barely 25, already labeled a draft bust. The Cleveland Browns traded the top pick early into his second season, and he failed to establish himself in two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
He’s now trying to catch on with the Raiders, locked in a battle with undrafted free agent Michael Dyer to be Latavius Murray’s backup. Those hoping for a turnaround have analyzed every part of that effort. Same with others focused on pointing out mistakes.
Richardson doesn’t listen to any of it.
“I’ve got that tunnel vision,” Richardson said after Friday’s practice. “(Alabama coach Nick Saban) always told me that there was a reason horses in a race had blinders on. They have to stay focused, with no distractions. That’s what I’m doing now.”
He hasn’t seen that photo gone viral of him running right with a wide rushing lane to the left– the image is completely bereft of vital context, by the way – early in this preseason, or the commentary that’s come with it.
That’s a smart move. Allowing outside negativity in won’t help his quest to make this team.
“High expectations have been with me forever,” Richardson said. “Everyone expects you to be great all the time. When you’ve been productive since you were little, you have to keep repping it. There will always be people outside talking against you, but I don’t listen to it. I don’t listen to the bad, I don’t listen to the good. I never watched SportsCenter, even when everything was going great. I’m still going to be me. I’m still going to be that guy who is going to work hard and ball out no matter what.”
Richardson needs to ball out over the next week, starting Sunday night against the Arizona Cardinals. He needs to play well against top opposition, and again the following Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks.
That’s because a roster spot isn’t assured, even with $600,000 in guaranteed money lining his checking account.
“He’s got to earn it,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s got to be good enough as a backup. We’ve got to see some of the explosiveness that he had when he was a young man playing for the Crimson Tide there. He’s got to have a role on special teams and he’s got to be able to help us win on Sundays. That’s the challenge for him right now.”
Richardson has 10 carries for just 23 yards this preseason, a lackluster total by any measure. He had five carries for five yards last week at Minnesota, while Dyer averaged 3.8 yards per carry in more than double the attempts.
Richardson wants to be here and be productive. That’s clear in talking to the man. He needs to make a solid impression down the stretch to stand out in this position battle.
“Everybody’s trying to get reps in and compete,” I feel like I’m getting into my groove with the timing of blocks and everything. That’s something that takes time, and it’s what the preseason is for. For me, it’s about getting my timing back and earning everyone’s respect with how I run at game time, my toughness and how I work every day.”
Richardson hasn’t put greater effort or emphasis into Sunday’s exhibition, even with first-unit reps surely coming while Murray’s reps are curtailed to keep him healthy. It’s another important piece of a larger body of work Richardson hopes is good enough to continue on in Silver and Black.
“Every single game is important to me,” Richardson said. “I work hard no matter what. I want every rep I can get, whether it’s on special teams or on offense. Those are all opportunities to so the coaches who I am. You have to maximize your time and show people what you’ve got. It’s good to be out there work, doing my thing.”