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Vikings' Sheldon Richardson bemoans NFL's tilt toward safety, says football 'meant to be violent'

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99), left, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (93) during the teams training camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minn., on Tuesday, Aug 7, 2018. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

EAGAN, Minn. — During training camp, Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo wore a cap with these words on the front: "Make Football Violent Again." Teammate Sheldon Richardson agrees.

The Vikings' 295-pound defensive tackle was miffed at being penalized for roughing the passer in last weekend's 24-16 season-opening victory over the San Francisco 49ers. He said this week that football is "meant to be violent."

The NFL is making a concerted effort this season to protect the quarterback, including cracking down on players who plop their full weight onto the person they tackle, rather than rolling off after a hit. Richardson was asked if he needs to be extra careful Sunday against high-profile quarterback Aaron Rodgers when Minnesota plays at Green Bay.

"I play football," Richardson said. "I'm not going to be dirty. I'm going to play football. It's aggressive, and it is what it is. If you're scared, go to church."

Rodgers was carried off the field in in the first half of last weekend's opener against Chicago with a sprained left knee. He returned in the second half to rally the Packers from a 20-0 deficit to a 24-23 victory. Rodgers hasn't practiced yet this week, and the Packers have not said whether he will play.

Regardless, Richardson pointed to Rodgers as one reason that rules are being interpreted differently this season.

"The committee that makes the rules is all offensive-minded guys," Richardson said. "Nobody from defense is up there. They just feel like if Aaron Rodgers or somebody's not out there (on the field), oh, the NFL's not the same."

Rodgers broke his collarbone last October on a hit by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, an injury that kept him out of nine of the final 10 games and sunk the Packers' season. Although Barr was not penalized or fined, NFL referee Pete Morelli said last month that the hit by Barr would be a penalty this season.

All in all, Richardson, 27, in his sixth NFL season and first with the Vikings, doesn't like how rules are now being interpreted.

"They've got to get hit sooner or later," Richardson said of quarterbacks. "They can't get hit in practice. They can't get hit in the game. They're going to get hit sooner or later. It is what it is. You're going to protect them or you're not. You're going to throw the flag or you're not. Go play football.

"This is the way you play football. It's aggressive. It's meant to be violent. No matter what injuries I get later in life, this is a sacrifice I'm willing to make as a young man. Me personally."

After Sunday's game, Richardson said of his fourth-quarter hit on San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo that drew a 15-yard penalty, "It wasn't dirty. I took a step and hit him, perfect-form tackle. What else do you want me to do?"

After watching it on tape this week, Richardson said he felt the same way.

"He hit him, and (the officials) feel like he drove him into the ground," Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly said Thursday. "I don't feel like it was a late (hit). The referee made a decision. I think if he does get fined, he'll appeal it, and they'll reduce it down to zero."

Richardson's penalty came with the Vikings leading 24-13 with 11 minutes left in the game, and after Garoppolo had thrown an incompletion on third-and-15 at the Minnesota 45. However, if Richardson had not been flagged, the 49ers would have taken a 5-yard penalty with an automatic first down since safety Jayron Kearse was called for defensive holding on the play. The drive led to a field goal.

The penalty did not detract from Richardson's impressive debut performance with the Vikings. He had six tackles, including half a sack. Pro Football Focus credited him with seven pressures on 30 pass-rushing snaps, getting two hits and five hurries.

"That's part of my regularly scheduled program," Richardson said. "Me getting the pressure on the quarterback and being disruptive like that is what I'm bringing to the team. Period."