Sheldon Richardson showed his value in Mike Zimmer’s defense in the first quarter of his first game in a Vikings uniform. The veteran defensive tackle turned the 49ers offensive line into mincemeat on back-to-back plays.
First, he drew a holding penalty when the left guard grabbed him by both shoulders and tackled him. Richardson flipped sides with nose tackle Linval Joseph on the next play and created destruction there, too.
He shoved the right guard backward, then shot through the gap between the center and guard to pressure quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Statistically, Richardson shared a sack with Everson Griffen, but the pocket collapse was the product of Richardson’s bull rush up the middle.
“I told him I hadn’t seen that guy before,” Zimmer said after Richardson’s dominating debut for the Vikings.
If Richardson continues to perform like that guy, he likely will be the next guy to receive a lucrative extension from the organization. Through two games, he has been one of the defense’s most disruptive and productive players.
“He’s motivated,” Griffen said. “I don’t know if [defensive line coach Andre] Patterson is getting in his ear, or Coach Zimmer is getting in his ear.”
Perhaps he recognizes an obvious need and opportunity. Zimmer has long coveted a pass-rushing, three-technique tackle. That position is one of the most vital in his scheme, and Zimmer has a certain vision for what he wants and how it should be played.
Richardson has fit that mold perfectly. He leads the team in quarterback hits (six) and quarterback hurries (16), which highlight his explosiveness because the Vikings have a pair of dynamic edge pass rushers in Griffen and Danielle Hunter.
“This defense is good for my skill set,” Richardson said. “Great for it. Just trying to make sure we keep it that way.”
Richardson signed a one-year, $8 million deal in March. Basically a prove-it deal. At age 27, he’s making a case that he deserves to be included in the big-money corps of defensive players under contract for the next three, four years. That’s predicated on Richardson continuing at this pace, of course.
“He’s a great player,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “He’s athletic, he’s explosive and he’s strong. Those are the three characteristics you want out of a three-technique.”
Richardson was involved in a key moment last week at Green Bay that opened the door for the Vikings in the second half. He drew a holding penalty that nullified a touchdown pass on third down late in the third quarter. The Packers settled for a field goal, which kept the deficit manageable.
Richardson’s ability to create pressure benefits the defense in two ways. For starters, he has the quickest path to the quarterback, which can disrupt a play’s timing.
His presence also helps defensive ends because quarterbacks have less room to move around in the pocket if consistent pressure is coming off the edge and up the middle. Richardson already has flushed the quarterback into sacks by both Griffen and Hunter.
“He’s bringing the offensive guards onto the quarterback’s feet, which is something that’s really helpful for the defense,” Hunter said. “It helps the ends being able to rush around the edge and not having quarterbacks step up.”
Richardson handed a percentage of his first paycheck to the league when he was fined $20,054 for roughing the passer in Week 1. That topic has become contentious around the league.
Richardson went old-school when asked if greater emphasis — and confusing guidelines — on protecting quarterbacks forces him to alter the way he rushes.
“You remember how Deacon Jones used to get sacks and stuff like that?” he replied. “I’m pretty sure it’s a lot different now.”
Um, yes. The Hall of Fame defensive end retired long before Richardson was even born. How does he know about Deacon Jones?
“My father was a big fan,” Richardson said. “Thank God for YouTube coming out when I was in high school. I learned a lot from that and NFL Films.”
He probably shouldn’t try to imitate Deacon’s patented head slap. That’s a definite no-no.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com