When they were on the Don Hutson Center field in the same secondary for rookie orientation, they were still in Nashville, as far as Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward were concerned.
Teammates at Vanderbilt, Richardson and Hayward became fast friends in college. Richardson, a safety, was the first member of his recruiting class that Hayward, a cornerback, met when he arrived on campus four years ago. According to Richardson, they were the only members of their class not to redshirt that first year.
They were starters in the secondary beginning as sophomores for three seasons, both with NFL aspirations. Hayward didn’t have to sweat it, getting drafted by the Packers in the second round. Richardson has gone the undrafted route, signing with Green Bay shortly after the draft ended.
They’re teammates, again, and both expressed how having a friend to lean on and talk to has eased the transition to the pro game.
“We help each other out, give advice, go over the playbook together,” said Richardson, who was assigned No. 28 in Green Bay, one less than Hayward's No. 29. “It’s great having someone you know with you along for the ride and experiencing the same journey.”
For a few snaps here and there during rookie orientation, practice felt the same as in college. Hayward and Richardson were on the field together a fair amount, barking signals and communicating as they often did in trying to defend Southeastern Conference receivers.
“We’ve always had chemistry. We have our own terminology that we understand,” Richardson said. “We started using our same little lingo that we had back in college. It’s something that carries on.”
They’ll try to carry that through into OTAs, which begin this week. A lot of eyes will be on Hayward to see where he fits on the depth chart amongst Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields and Jarrett Bush at corner. Hayward intercepted 13 passes over his final two seasons at Vanderbilt.
As a second-round pick for whom General Manager Ted Thompson traded up to select, Hayward will be given time to show what he’s got. The undrafted Richardson won’t have the luxury of time, but Hayward felt his former teammate made a strong impression in rookie orientation with a couple of interceptions, and he’s not discounting Richardson’s chances of making the final roster.
Richardson joins young safeties M.D. Jennings, Anthony Levine and fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian in what should be a competitive position group led by 2011 starters Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah.
“He’s a good special-teams guy, somebody who will work hard and know the playbook,” Hayward said. “I felt he stood out a lot (during rookie camp).”
Richardson feels his friend will do the same soon enough.
“Casey, he’s a smart kid,” Richardson said. “Everybody sees him out there making plays, but he’s making those plays because he’s real smart. He knows route recognition and the quarterback tendencies. He sees it and knows how the quarterback thinks.”
In his uphill battle to make the team, Richardson hopes to use his smarts, too. At Vanderbilt, he made a lot of the defensive calls and said he knew everyone’s responsibility on defense except for, perhaps, the nose guard.
He said that experience has helped him grasp the Packers’ defensive playbook quickly so far.
“They expect you to know your position and what to do,” Richardson said. “But when you can see other things and verbalize it, it shows you’re football smart and a reliable person.”
One thing’s for certain, these two will continue to rely on each other. They haven’t yet discussed whether or not they’ll get an apartment together this summer (Hayward has been rooming with McMillian at a local hotel since arriving in Green Bay), but they both acknowledge it’s a possibility.
It would be fitting, too. Shortly after the draft, when Hayward found out the Packers had signed Richardson, Hayward told him, “I guess we can’t get away from each other.”
“I was excited for him that we’d be at the same place and we’d get to grind together like we were doing in college,” Hayward said. “He’s someone I can talk to, somebody that knows football. I’m happy he has the opportunity to be here with me.”