Incompletions can help make VU junior a more complete safety

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 10:05pm

Sean Richardson wants to be the total package.

Vanderbilt’s junior strong-safety already is known as a hard-hitting tackler. In 2009 he was second on the team with 43 solo stops (4.5 for a loss of yards) and his 84 combined ranked third among Commodore defenders.

Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jamie Bryant noted that Richardson is especially effective when brought down in the box as an eighth defender. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Richardson should rank among SEC defensive back leaders in tackles if he continues to produce at the same rate. But he wants to diversify his defensive capabilities as well.

“I want to be better in the passing aspect,” Richardson said. “Me and the coaches, we’ve been working hard on reading the quarterbacks and reading wide receiver splits, things like that. My main thing right now is to get better as a complete safety, not just a tackling safety.”

Bryant does not dote on Richardson when describing his role; it’s not because the coach is unenthusiastic about his player. Rather, Bryant expects and needs Richardson to perform his tasks without fanfare. With experience levels dropping off after the starting lineup in the secondary, the conference-seasoned junior is a valued asset.

“Sean’s got to do his job every snap,” Bryant said. “He’s got to make sure we’re lined up, he’s got to make sure we’re in the right call and everybody is where they’re supposed to be. He’s got to be a leader in the secondary because we don’t have many older guys.”

The younger players are still having a positive effect on Richardson. An excited group of freshmen defensive backs have helped keep Richardson on task. He notes that first-years like Steven Clarke, Andre Hal, Karl Butler and other young players have made an impression on the older members of the Commodore secondary. The youth have been asking the right questions, Richardson said, and are impressionable.

“We try to set the tempo and lead by example,” he said. “Therefore we go out there with intensity because if we don’t do it and they see the upperclassmen, the guys starting, not doing it they will follow us.”

Richardson’s 2009 season was decorated with career highs. Against South Carolina in Columbia he recorded a career best total of 12 tackles. He posted 10-tackle performances against three other SEC foes: in 2009 LSU, Mississippi State, and Kentucky.

Though a stalwart defender, Richardson’s brightest moment was on the scoring end of one of the biggest games in modern Vanderbilt football.

In the 2008 Music City Bowl against Boston College, Richardson scored the Commodore’s only touchdown in a game that ended a 54-year bowl drought for the program. Down 7-6 in the third quarter, Richardson recovered a punt in the end zone after it bounced off the leg of BC’s Paul Anderson. VU won the game 16-14.

Richardson won’t be counting on rare special teams scoring opportunities like that one; they are hard to replicate. But if the Commodores are to replicate the success of their 2008 season it once again will hinge on Richardson making plays. This year, he aims to make them hindering the passing game with his coverage just as often as stopping ball carriers with his body.

Briefly

• Tuesday's practice was halted after roughly due to lightning. Players and coaches waited for about an hour before they resumed.

“We ended up getting something done,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “It’s hard when you come out and you go back and you change modes. That’s why we put a little bit of extra running on at the end to catch their attention.“

• Quarterback Jordan Rodgers continues to sit out passing drills with back spasms and a sore throwing shoulder.

“We just want to make sure he doesn’t hurt it,” Caldwell said. “He’s getting treatment, but he’s itching to get out. We’re having to hold him back.”

• Starting cornerback Jamie Graham, who hurt his groin in Saturday’s practice, continued to sit out. Caldwell said Graham is “awful sore” but nothing is torn of broken.

• Monday was Vanderbilt’s first of three dates scheduled for two-a-day practices. The next is Wednesday.

Caldwell was pleased with the team’s effort and noted that benefits of intense two-a-day conditioning far outweigh any injury risks.

“It’s kind of durned if you do and durned if you don’t,” he said.  “You’ve got to work to get better and you can’t be afraid to bump a little bit. It’s just part of it, it’s a necessary evil. You hate to see anyone get nicked up but it’s going to happen.”

• Senior running back Kennard Reeves came back from a hamstring action and saw limited action during Saturday’s practice. Monday he returned to more a more standard workload.