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'Good Guy' Sheldon Richardson maintains positivity despite adversity-filled 1st season with Browns

Sheldon Richardson brushed his dreadlocks back, shuffled around his locker and smiled before receiving his first question from the media Thursday inside the Browns headquarters.

"Do you have a 'Good Guy' acceptance speech?" a reporter asked.

Richardson, confused at first, widened his eyes and looked down. Then, it clicked.

He was the winner of the 2019 Pro Football Writers of America local chapter's "Good Guy Award," given annually to a player for his cooperation with the media and for the way the player carries himself in the community and with his teammates.

"I appreciate the award. I'm thankful. Happy holidays," Richardson said before sharing a laugh.

For Richardson, the award — and scene — showcased the positive, hearty, honest demeanor the defensive tackle has maintained through a season that hasn't always gone to plan. 

Richardson has been the lone constant on a Browns defensive line riddled with injuries, suspensions and adversity this season, but that hasn't changed the approach he's carried in practice or on game day.

With Olivier Vernon, Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Garrett and Richardson, Cleveland had a defensive line ready to terrorize opposing backfields. That hasn't always happened.

Vernon, a 2018 Pro Bowler, has missed six games due to a lingering knee injury. Garrett, who recorded 13.5 sacks last season, has been suspended since Week 11. Ogunjobi has been stable with 5.5 sacks this season but was suspended for a Week 12 win over Miami.

Richardson, however, has played in all 15 games. The seven-year veteran is third on the Browns with 59 tackles, fourth with three sacks and has assumed an even larger leadership role with the absence of Vernon and Garrett.

Through all the hardships, Richardson has continued to find success.

Since Week 11, Richardson has recorded five quarterback hits, three sacks, 21 tackles and two forced fumbles. None of those games featured the assistance of Vernon or Garrett, but Richardson has done all he could to fill the talent gaps.

"He has meant a lot to us not just as a defense but really as a team with his role as a leader," defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. "When Myles went out, he did step up in more than one way, being more vocal and also just his performance and play on the field."

Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Bengals Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey

Richardson is 29 and still among the top defensive tackles in the league. He has two seasons left on his current contract with Cleveland and has plenty of reason to believe the defensive line will carry the same potential next season when Vernon and Garrett return.

After this season, however, the Browns know they can count on Richardson to produce no matter who he's with.

"I think Sheldon has done a good job of when he shows up on Sunday, you see him run sideline to sideline playing hard every play," coach Freddie Kitchens said. "It does not matter what the situation is, he tries to compete every play and is very active and a lot of energy. He has been very good."

Richardson feels as though Cleveland is his best fit. After four seasons with the New York Jets, he played with the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings on one-year deals but has appeared to up his game with Cleveland.

That's why Richardson has maintained his positivity despite the Browns' underwhelming finish. His value to the defense has only grown, and he knows that better results are ahead.

"I love it here," Richardson said. "I'm cool."