The Unsung Hero

It’s been a busy week in Jets land.  I’ve been glued to ESPN, hanging on Adam Schefter’s every word waiting to see what moves will be made this off season.  I’ll be the first to admit that never in a million years did I expect the Jets running back corps to be the object of so much potential change.

All this movement has sparked many discussions and debate regarding the merits of players like Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.  With all this talk revolving around the Jets running game, Jets fans have let me down by not ever worrying about one key component to its success – Tony Richardson, until today.   

Richardson has been on the top of my list of Jets players that must be back next year.  Each and every discussion regarding the success of the Jets rushing attack should always include his name.  While the cohesiveness of our offensive line has led to great success, his contributions must be noted as well.
The fullback is by far one of the most undervalued positions on a football team.  Some refer to them as “football’s forgotten position”.  Unfortunately, the fullback position has diminished in importance over the past few decades as modern offenses such as the spread offense have become popular.
That being said, traditional fullbacks in the NFL are some of the fiercest and most physical players in the game.  They are physical lead blockers who specialize in paving the way on power runs.   The Jets are lucky to have one of the league’s best fullback take the field for them week after week.
Rich Cimini of the Daily News may have referred to Tony Richardson as “ancient”, but after 16 years at such a brutal position, T.Rich still plays like a 25 year old.  There are only 3 players left from the 1994 rookie class  - Kevin Mawae, Issac Bruce……and Tony Richardson.
Surprisingly enough, T.Rich entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and was signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.  He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995 and played there for 11 years before joining the Vikings in 2006, and spending the last two seasons on the New York Jets. 
He’s played an integral role in the careers of some of the most notable running backs in the game including Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and Adrian Peterson.  He has blocked for a 1,000 yd rusher seven times in five years.  The most recent being in 2008 blocking for former Jet Thomas Jones.
The four-time Pro Bowler has been an emotional leader in the Jets locker room and has been an “unsung hero” in helping the Jets become the number one team in rushing this year.  
While I’d love to have him continue to be our lead blocker for years to come, the reality is that Richardson’s retirement is looming in the near future.  On an interview this January on a Kansas City based sports radio show, T.Rich was asked when the end of his football career would be.  He responded “within the next 16 months”.
In my opinion, the Jets organization has not prepared well enough for this loss.  Has Tannenbaum completely forgotten to take notice of Richardson’s impact on the team as well?  History has proven that tailbacks often struggle when adjusting to a new fullback.  Both Larry Johnson and Adrian Peterson both suffered decreases in their average YPC once they were no longer running behind Richardson.
Tannenbaum stated today “re-signing Tony Richardson is a priority” and I couldn’t agree more.   Knowing that the veteran fullback wouldn’t be around forever you would think that they would have had a young player learn from T.Rich last season.  All pre-season, through training camp, Richardson mentored Jehuu Caulcrick.  Caulcrick never made the 53-man roster for reasons I still do not comprehend, and has now been signed to the San Francisco 49ers.
Jason Davis is the only other fullback on the Jets roster right now, and has been on the practice squad all season. Tannenbaum has spoken highly of Davis’ “physicality and upside” today,  but no way no how is a young player who’s spent the majority of the past 4 years on different practice squads,  remotely ready to take over the role of one of the league’s best fullbacks.  
The Jets better hope and pray that T.Rich has one more season in him and need to make sure that he finishes his career wearing a Jets uniform.  Our running game would not have had the success it did without the offensive linemen, or fullback we had last year.  If the Jets want to repeat this success, they will need Richardson to block for Greene, Washington (fingers crossed) and whoever is named as Thomas Jones’ replacement.
Still having a hard time seeing his value to the team?  I’ll leave you with this:
Remember the Jets vs. Chargers game when the Jets were faced with a 4th-and-1 at the Chargers 29?  Who landed the key block on that play that sealed the deal on the 17-14 victory? 
You got it…..the one....the only .....#49 himself - Tony Richardson.