INDIANAPOLIS -- Alabama running back Trent Richardson deals with everything the same way -- head on.
That goes for linebackers, interview questions and the perception that running backs are no longer important.
Few running backs have been drafted early in recent years as the league has shifted to a running back-by-committee approach with specialists. The 225-pound Richardson believes he is the every-down back who can take the position back to the way they used to be.
“We’re getting pounded every down,” he said Friday at the NFL combine. “Everybody needs a running back and everybody’s got to use that running back. The value of a running back is not the same, and it’s crazy to us.”
The only running back chosen in the first round last year was Richardson’s former Alabama teammate, Mark Ingram. In 2010, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best were taken in the first round. Three backs were taken in the first round in 2009, down from five in 2008.
Then again, few backs in recent years have had Richardson’s combination of speed, power and thirst for contact. Richardson, considered the top back in this year’s class, ran for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns last season and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. He also caught 29 passes for 338 yards and three more scores.
All those things have given Richardson a rare level of confidence. Well before the draft, he already is talking about clashing with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
“It’s a mindset thing,” he said. “I’m not saying that Ray Lewis is not going to take me out, but when it comes down to it, we’ll have to see each other in the hole. I love Uncle Ray to death. I know he’s going to try to bring all the contact he can and he’s going to try to beat me up in the hole. But why would you stand down?”
Richardson also enjoys blocking and watching film, important things that aren’t nearly as popular as carrying the ball.
“Not to be cocky or anything, I work on my game every day,” he said. “Even if it’s not physical stuff, I work in the classroom, running plays, learning formations or learning the defensive line, learning what the linebacker’s doing.”
As far as his speed, Richardson said numbers don’t matter.
“I’ve never been caught from behind,” he said. “People who want to question my speed, look at the tape.”
Richardson sees no need to replace him with a specialist at any time because he can do it all.
“When it comes to playing football, I can say look at each game, any game you want to and just really try to find a negative,” he said.
“A lot of people try to find a negative, anything, in your game. It ain’t too many negatives I have out there.”
Richardson grew up watching Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and wants to be like him as a pro.
“Adrian Peterson’s not coming off the field when it’s third down or when it’s fourth-and-1,” Richardson said. “They’re giving him that ball.”
Richardson has Ingram to thank for helping him reach his current position. In 2010, Ingram ran for 875 yards and Richardson ran for 700. The previous year, Ingram ran for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns and won the Heisman Trophy while Richardson posted a respectable 751 yards and added eight touchdowns.
“I was always his biggest critic, he was always my biggest critic,” Richardson said. “When it comes down to it, it’s all a lot of love, and we’re just being competitive and being football players.”
Richardson has only fond memories of platooning with Ingram.
“Mark did a tremendous job, and it was an honor just playing with that dude there,” Richardson said. “That man, he was amazing, what he did at Alabama. Trying to fill in his shoes was big on me. It was a lot of pressure. At the same time, I just had to put that giant on my shoulder and just run with it.”
Richardson can’t run right now. A recent minor surgery on his left knee has prevented him from fully participating in the combine.
“It was a little scope,” he said. “I don’t even call it a setback. I just missed a little opportunity to run the 40 in front of everybody.”
He was looking forward to participating and took a shot at those who hold out of drills.
“It irks my nerves when I hear everybody talking about I don’t want to do this, this and that at the combine,” Richardson said. “That’s something that you dream of and want to do your whole life, and me being a college football player and just a competitor, I always wanted to come to this, to be at this spot right here where I’m in now and just show all my skills and show out at the combine.”