Clinton-Dix, Hayward vow to play for fallen ‘brother’ Richardson

Richardson out for the year with a back injury

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Casey Hayward don’t know if Sean Richardson will ever play football for the Green Bay Packers again, and at the moment, neither one of them cares.

All that matters to them right now is making sure their brother is doing OK.

“Sean has been like a big brother to me – personally,” said Clinton-Dix, the team’s first-round pick a year ago. “When I first came in, he helped me. He’s from [the state of] Alabama, so we spend a lot of time together in the offseason hanging out, working out. So to see him go down like that, it hurts a lot. I pray God is with him and he overcomes everything.”

Richardson, who came back from a career-threatening 2012 neck injury to play in all 18 of the Packers’ games (including playoffs) last season, suffered another herniated disc in his neck recently and did not play in last Sunday’s game against St. Louis. He is expected to miss the rest of the season and his career is in jeopardy again.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy refused to speak about Richardson’s situation, despite the news of Richardson’s injury coming out last Friday, as first reported by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“This is really not the time to talk about that,” McCarthy replied curtly on Monday when asked how difficult it is to see Richardson going through this again. “There’s still things that need to be looked at, and he needs to go through the whole process until the final judgment comes in.”

Asked if Richardson’s season is over, McCarthy replied, “This is not the time to talk about it. I just answered the question.”

Richardson’s two closest friends, though, did want to talk about it – especially Hayward, who was Richardson’s teammate in college at Vanderbilt and was in contact with his friend throughout his comeback and now again with his latest injury. Hayward said the defensive backs are dedicating their season to their fallen teammate.

“It’s tough. I’ve been playing with him for eight years now in a row. I’m going to play for him, we’re all going to play for him,” Hayward said. “Hopefully we can win the Super Bowl and he’ll be a part of that.”

Richardson’s neck injury dates back to Nov. 25, 2012, suffered in a loss to the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. Because the first symptoms he felt actually pointed to a back injury, he initially didn’t realize the severity of his injury and even practiced the following week in advance of the Packers’ next game. Only after an MRI revealed a ruptured disc in his neck between the C5 and C6 vertebrae was the diagnosis made.

Richardson then underwent single-spinal fusion surgery in January 2013. His doctor was Dr. Robert Watkins, who had performed a similar procedure on Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who came back to have a phenomenal year in 2012 after missing the entire 2011 season because of his neck injury.

Unlike safety Nick Collins and tight end Jermichael Finley, whose spinal fusion surgeries were of the C3-C4 vertebrae, Richardson had a better chance of playing again because the herniation was lower. But the Packers still required him to get medical clearance from five different doctors before signing off him returning to the field during the 2013 season. He wound up seeing some action during the second half of that season before playing in every game last year, primarily on special teams.

During the offseason, the Packers matched the one-year, $2.55 million offer sheet he signed with the Oakland Raiders, even though Richardson was behind Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde on the safety depth chart. That spoke to how vital the team believed he was on special teams and as a unique situational defender.

Last season, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Richardson saw more playing time on defense as the year wore on – he might have won a starting job in 2013, amid the Packers’ problems at safety, had he been cleared to play in training camp – and wound up playing 121 snaps on defense.

Last year, Richardson served as the Packers’ the third safety in the team’s “Big Okie” base package, as defensive coordinator Dom Capers played Richardson in place of cornerback Sam Shields. This season, Capers was again using Richardson in that role.

“That’s like my brother. So I feel for him,” Hayward said. “You feel for any teammate, any brother who goes out with any injury, but especially as severe as his injury. I just try to keep him in high spirits, pray for him and his family. Ultimately, it’s bigger than football.

“I think he’s making the right choice of being out for the season. I don’t know the diagnosis of everything, but the most important thing is just getting him healthy – outside of football. He has a kid, he has a fiancée. It’s bigger than football. And he realizes that.”