COLUMBIA — For the first time since he had to win his job in pee-wee football, Sheldon Richardson is not a starter. The good news, though, for both him and the Tigers, is that the nation’s former No. 4 overall recruit was on the practice field for the first time in a Missouri uniform Thursday.
The defensive tackle was officially cleared Wednesday evening and appeared in Thursday morning’s practice in full pads.
Andrew Wilson impresses
Linebacker Andrew Wilson headlined the defense's day-winning performance with two big plays. The first was a massive hit he delivered to T.J. Moe as the receiver came across the middle of the field. Wilson and Will Ebner are considered the two biggest hitters on the team, and Wilson certainly did his part on that play to show it.
The second was an interception off of Ashton Glaser that brought him almost all the way to the left sideline. Wilson leaped and made a great catch to complete the play.
The two were arguably the best plays in any of Thursday morning's drills.
Despite saying he was going to start solidifying personnel in the return game after practice Wednesday, there were newcomers to both the punt and kick returns.
Freshman Ian Simon, a defensive back out of Mansfield, Texas, joined T.J. Moe and Jimmie Hunt on punt returns while Hickman High School graduate Wesley Leftwich was added to the mix of Hunt, Moe, Jerrell Jackson, Kendial Lawrence and Henry Josey on kickoff returns.
- Quarterback James Franklin continued to look more comfortable in the pocket, stepping up to run a couple of times and also completing a gorgeous pass over the middle to Bud Sasser.
- Quarterback Corbin Berkstresser rebounded from a subpar Wednesday practice to make a nice throw during 11-on-11 drills. Backpedaling, he completed a 15-yard pass to Kerwin Stricker on the left sideline.
- Middle linebacker Luke Lambert took the majority of the reps with the first-team defense Thursday. Will Ebner had been in that role during the start of camp.
“We were just dotting all the I’s, crossing all the T’s and making sure when I’m here, I’m here to stay,” Richardson said. “I’m here now.”
Richardson had been working out with strength and conditioning staff and thus had completed his five-day, NCAA-mandated acclimation period and was ready for full action Thursday.
Now, he must climb the depth chart. Like everyone else in the program, he must earn his playing time.
“He starts at the bottom, like Jeremy Maclin, everybody starts at the bottom,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “There’s no prima donnas around here and he knows that.”
Coming out of high school at St. Louis’ Gateway Institute of Technology in the spring of 2009, he was ranked as the No. 1 defensive tackle nationally, but academic issues forced him to junior college at the College of the Sequoias in California. After some tough love from Missouri cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, the man responsible for his recruitment, Richardson ended a one-month flirtation with USC and recommitted to the Tigers. Now, he joins camp a week late, but for everyone involved, it’s a relief just to have him on the field at all.
“It seems like I’ve been recruiting him forever, but it’s over and I’m just glad we can focus on football,” Ford said.
Richardson acknowledged how his experiences have humbled him.
“I had a big head when I graduated high school, I went to juco and that leveled me out a bit,” he said. “If anyone tells you humble pies taste good, they’re lying to you.”
He spent most of Thursday’s practice with third- and fourth-string defensive linemen, but was with the first team during one-on-one pass rush drills. He beat starting guard Austin Wuebbels twice.
“I saw fresh legs, he was looking good out there,” left tackle Elvis Fisher said. “He looked fast off the ball and he looked strong.”
Richardson didn’t play for the College of the Sequoias this past season to preserve an extra year of Division I eligibility, but Pinkel said he was happy with the shape Richardson was in when he entered camp.
“He weighed about 310 today,” Pinkel said. “He’s in pretty good shape.”
Outside expectations are extremely high for him, but Richardson said he isn’t worried about pressure, or even earning a starting spot immediately.
“I got a good defensive line in front of me, and I’ve got to work my way up,” he said. “I’m comfortable. It’s football and I live for it. It is what it is; there’s no hiding, no getting around it. I just go forward and go through.”
So while the recruitment chapter of the Richardson story has finally come to a close, his quest to find a spot on what is considered a deep defense has just begun.
“He’s got a lot of ability or he wouldn’t be here,” defensive end Jacquies Smith said. “He’s got things he needs to work on, but he showed flashes of what he can do out there. He can’t do anything but add to our depth.”