'Tiny' Richardson healthy and finding spot on O-line
If you want to feel better about Tennessee football, I recommend you spend some time with offensive lineman Antonio Richardson.
He's an imposing figure even when he's trying to catch his breath, which he was Friday afternoon when he met with the media following UT's spring scrimmage.
I couldn't resist asking the obvious: "You been running?"
"Yes, sir," Richardson said. "Some up-and-downs, about 25 of them."
It wasn't a conditioning drill. It was Richardson's punishment for an offsides penalty.
By the time he finished explaining the drill, he was breathing normally and I was remembering John Henderson, UT's former All-American defensive tackle, who was recently released from the Oakland Raiders after making millions of dollars in the NFL.
Both played high school football at Pearl-Cohn in Nashville. Both had nicknames related to their size. Henderson is "Big John." Richardson is "Tiny."
Comparison of note: Tiny looks bigger than Big John as a freshman. He's listed as 6-foot-6, 325 pounds and looks every bit of it. Like Henderson, who was 6-7, 280 as a freshman, Richardson could pass for a basketball player if you ignored his biceps, which are bigger than some forwards' calves.
An NFL team would be tempted to draft Richardson on looks alone. Although a preseason shoulder injury slowed his development as a freshman last fall, the Vols have opened up a tackle position for him this spring.
"I had a couple of missed assignments," he said of his first spring scrimmage. "Overall, I did pretty well. I give a lot of credit to Dallas (Thomas).
"There may be a play where there's a safety rotation or a shift and I get confused with what's going on. Dallas will make a call. Once I get a call, I know what to do."
Thomas, a two-year starter at tackle, has moved to left guard, alongside Richardson. With all the other starters returning in the offensive line, the group has depth and experience.
No one is more aware of that than offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who points out: "A few years ago when somebody got hurt (in the offensive line), it was like 'who is the guy going out there?' "
Based on playing time, Richardson would be the least known of the bunch. But he's winning over his more experienced teammates.
"He's got a lot of leadership skills, and he's got that dynamic personality," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "He's hard not to like."
It's significant that Richardson even thinks about leading as a freshman. But he doesn't just think about it. He includes it on the list of goals that's he has posted on a wall. The list is nothing new. He started writing down his goals when he was a high school sophomore.
"Keep God first is No. 1," he said. "Keep a 2.5 or higher in my grade-point. Of course, I want to be All-American, All-SEC."
He already looks the part.