Paul Richardson was back on the field with the Seahawks Monday, going through his first practice in more than nine months. And following offseason knee surgery, the second-year receiver showed that a second ACL injury didn't take away the speed that helped him become a second-round pick out of Colorado in 2014.
"First time out, he looked lightning fast," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's got the fresh legs and he's already really fast, so he looked good getting started today."
Richardson, who was Seattle's first pick in last year's draft, opened the 2015 season on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he could not return to practice until after Week 6. And with Seattle having a Thursday game in Week 7, meaning a condensed work week, the decision was made to wait until this week to bring him back.
While Richardson is back to practicing, the Seahawks do not have to make a roster move right away. He can practice for up to three weeks from the day he returned to practice before the Seahawks decide if they want to add him to the 53-man roster or leave him on the PUP list, which would end his season. A move will have to be made before Richardson can play in a game, and despite a long layoff, Carroll didn't rule out the possibility of that happening before Sunday's game at Dallas.
"I don't think it's unrealistic," Carroll said. "Because of the workouts they've taken him through, there's a chance of that. We'll just see what that means, I don't know. I'm not going to hold out hope for it, we're just go one day at a time and see what happens.
"I'm just going one day at a time, just see how he does. The guys have been raving about him in the training workouts. He's been at top speed for some time now. They've worked him really hard, so they think he's going to be able to withstand the practice mode. We've just got to see how he takes to it and see where he is. He's really anxious to contribute and play right now, and would love to help, but we'll just go at it, making sure we don't overdo it for him right now, that's the main thing."
Richardson, who was injured in January's playoff victory over the Carolina Panthers, hoped to be back for the start of the season, but he also knew that team doctors and trainers were doing the right thing by bringing him along slowly.
"I've been itching to get out here since my surgery, but they've been doing a good job of monitoring me and making sure I'm getting ready and progressing," said Richardson, who finished his rookie season with 29 catches for 271 yards and a touchdown, as well as 16 kickoff returns for 376 yards with a long of 47. "I appreciate them looking out for me like that."
Richardson said the rehab was easier from a mental standpoint this time around having suffered a similar injury in college, but noted, "It was frustrating at first, because I couldn't walk. I had to learn how to walk again. It was motivation. Watching my teammates without me, that motivated me. I watched a lot of football, and I was just itching to get on grass. I said, 'as soon as I start walking, I'm going start running.' And as soon as I dropped the crutches, I put on my cleats."
Richardson said he has been timed in a 40-yard dash and is "definitely faster" now than before the injury, though he didn't provide specifics. But speed alone isn't what Richardson and the Seahawks are looking for when he gets back to game action. Richardson was plenty fast when he arrived in Seattle, but it took him much of his first season to find his way in Seattle's offense and to build a rapport with quarterback Russell Wilson.
"Just getting Russell's trust," Richardson said of getting going late in the season. "Once he knew I was a dependable target—I can get open, I can catch the ball—he was more encouraged to find me. Hopefully I can just build that confidence back in our relationship whenever I'm back on the field Sundays so we can pick up where we left off."
But while Richardson didn't make a huge impact early in his rookie season, he saw his role grow late in the year and had 13 catches for 142 and a touchdown in Seattle's final three regular season games. He had one catch for 21 yards before injuring his knee one play later when he was the target on a deep pass attempt down the left sideline.
"Paul was really starting to come on late in the year," Carroll said. "He was catching a lot of passes and kind of intricate route things that we were doing with him, advanced stuff, timing things that we were really counting on him, and he was getting in and out of his breaks beautifully. We really started to go to him late in the season, so it was a great sign and it was unfortunate that he got banged up. I don't know where we're going to pick up from there. I don't know that. We're just going to wait and see. This is really the first hour we've had on the field all year. But we're hopeful that he'll be a real big factor for us when we can get him back in there, and we'll just fit him in."
While Richardson returned to action Monday, the other player on the PUP list, cornerback Jeremy Lane, is still not quite ready to return. Lane injured his knee and broke his arm at the end of his interception return in the Super Bowl, and while he is making good progress, Carroll said they'll wait a bit longer to bring him back to practice.
"He's a couple weeks back," Carroll said. "I think what we're aiming for is the week after the bye to try to practice him and start it up with him. He's close and he really wants to go. He's anxious, and the trainers just want to make sure that they do everything they can to get him as ready as possible. At this time, after you've waited this long, I think it's good to exercise caution here and make sure we don't go too quick."