FOXBORO, Mass. — One of the standouts of New England Patriots training camp thus far has been a player who hardly saw the field last season: safety Jordan Richards.
Richards, who spent the 2016 campaign buried at the bottom of the depth chart, has impressed through three days of camp practice, intercepting three passes and breaking up two others. He was the first — and, so far, only — player to pick off starting quarterback Tom Brady.
“I just want to play good football,” Richards said after Saturday’s session, “and that starts with preparing to do that throughout the offseason and in meetings and then trying to execute that on the field.”
In addition to his interception, Richards also forced an incompletion on Brady’s final throw of the day by knocking down a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski has had the upper hand in that matchup in the past, but Richards wrestled the ball out of the hulking tight end’s grasp before he could complete the catch.
“Whoever it is — whether it’s Gronk, whether it’s any of our other tight ends — I’m looking for first interceptions and trying to make a play on the ball,” Richards said. “And if not, a pass breakup’s nice right behind that.”
Drafted in the second round out of Stanford in 2015, Richards played 238 snaps on defense as a Patriots rookie and another 253 on special teams. His playing time plummeted in his second year, however. He logged a mere 18 defensive snaps all last season and was a healthy scratch for all three playoff games.
Richards entered this summer on the roster bubble, miles behind the Patriots’ top safety trio of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon and providing far less in the kicking game than fellow reserve Nate Ebner, a second-team All-Pro in 2016.
It won’t be any easier to break into that talented group this year. Richards knows that. His plan? Make the most of every opportunity he gets.
“We don’t count the reps — we make the reps count,” he said. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”
So far, the 24-year-old has acquitted himself well, earning high praise from McCourty, the leader of the Patriots’ secondary.
“The thing with Jordan is, he’s a very hard worker — on the field, in the classroom, studying, trying to get ahead,” McCourty said. “He was very smart when he came in as a rookie. You could probably pull up interviews where we were blown away, a lot of the older guys, with just how much knowledge he was able to retain. It’s good just to see him out here, he’s made a ton of plays the first three days of camp.
“So I always tell him, ‘Just keep it going, just keep making plays,’ and that’ll continue for him. Obviously, going against our offense, we’ve got a lot of really good players, and if you can make plays against them, you can keep doing that every Sunday.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images