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Hits Keep on Coming for Richard : Chargers: Rookie safety earning notice from coaches--and teammates--with his aggressive play.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It takes something special to get a reaction out of Ronnie Harmon.

Most defenders don’t get close enough to the elusive running back to tackle him, let alone aggravate him.

On first impression, however, it doesn’t appear as if safety Stanley Richard, the Chargers’ first-round pick, is going to play football like most defenders.

In Thursday afternoon’s Charger practice at UCSD, Richard ran step for step with Harmon and then he tried to rip the ball from Harmon’s arms. Richard persisted. The play ended. Richard persisted.

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Harmon fired a forearm at the rookie for the first show of emotion in almost two years. And Richard persisted.

“I was a little surprised by Ronnie’s reaction; we kinda scuffled,” Richard said. “But I’m a competitor. I’m just trying to work on my game.”

A few moments later, Harmon hauled in a short pass and took off running down the sideline. Richard was a little late in reacting to the play, but he caught up with Harmon and then sent him flying head over heels 10 yards out of bounds.

“I just wanted to let him know,” Richard said, “that regardless of what happens, I’ll still be there.”

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The education of Stanley Richard and teammates continues.

“I think guys respect him,” said Jim Mora, Charger secondary coach. “It’s not a jerky malicious kind of thing. He’s just aggressive. He’s doing his job. He knocks people down, picks them up and that’s just how he plays.”

In Thursday afternoon’s practice, Richard blitzed quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver on the first play of 11-on-11 and tipped his pass off-target for an incomplete pass.

A short time later, he mugged Harmon and then tried to remove the helmet and/or head of Steve Hendrickson. He tackled running back Rod Bernstine in the non-tackling drill, and then finished the day by stepping in front of Bernstine to intercept a Bob Gagliano pass.

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“He makes plays; things happen,” Mora said. “He’s going to make some errors because he’s young and he hasn’t seen everything, but he has a great learning capacity. He’s in our meeting room with me looking at film and studying extra until 11 each night.

“It’s like the interception; he has seen our offense run that play over and over and he’s watched guys play it wrong. When he saw it today, he disguised his look. The quarterback thought he had an open man, and Stanley knew the quarterback thought he had an open man. He baited him into throwing it, and boom, he had it.”

It’s “boom-boom” when the opposition gets the ball.

“He has that pop where he hits someone and explodes through a guy,” said Mora. “He’s like (Kenny) Easley and (Ronnie) Lott were. They came up and they would chest-to-chest tackle you.

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“He doesn’t go down and try to take their legs out; he’s going to take their whole body.”

With less than two weeks of his first training camp behind him, however, Richard is not always in the right place at the right time. He was moving toward the line of scrimmage Thursday when he was supposed to be retreating deep in double coverage.

“I’m not a complete player now,” Richard said. “One negative play blocks out everything else. I have 10 other guys depending on me. I may be the No. 1 choice and maybe they see a little potential in me, but all that’s forgotten if I don’t do what I’m supposed to do.”

In his exhibition debut against the Rams last week, Richard was left behind by running back Cleveland Gary.

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“I was embarrassed,” he said. “I was trying to do everything by myself. There was a cornerback playing on the outside of me, and I should have run him in that direction. But I forgot the corner was there and ran at full speed to make the tackle.

“He gave me a little move, cut back inside and was by me. That’s not how I got to be the No. 1 draft choice.”

On Monday he will play in his second NFL game and will make his first start--against Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and the San Francisco 49ers.

“Everybody I play is going to be the ‘man’ this year,” he said. “I’m afraid every one of them is going to try and test me. I know they got Jerry Rice and John Taylor, but they’ve also got a lot of rookies who will also be coming after me.”

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At the University of Texas, Richard roamed the secondary and referred to himself as, “the Sheriff.” He said, however, that he’s not ready to flash his badge in San Diego.

“I know I’m going to make a lot of plays and help this team somehow, but ‘the Sheriff’ is going to play it low key until he can make things happen more consistently.

“Right now a lot of players might get the best of me, but before it’s over, I’m going to have the last word.”


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