Paul Richardson Jr. said he had too much respect for the game to end his season early after the Redskins invested $40 million in him, but his right shoulder injury forced him to shut it down anyway. Now he's back and ready to prove his worth. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Paul Richardson Jr. burst off the line, and for a second the Washington Redskins’ high-priced wide receiver looked like himself — a rarity after a disappointing, injury-riddled season. He attacked the defensive back, but as he made a move to the inside, he slowed to a jog. It was a training camp walk-through in the heat of a late afternoon in August, and Richardson didn’t need to push it.

Quarterback Case Keenum flicked a pass toward the middle of the field. Richardson snagged it and turned upfield toward the end zone, which he visited only twice last season. Coach Jay Gruden later called it Richardson’s “best day, as far as seeing him run,” and suggested the wide receiver needs to remind not just himself but his teammates of the player he can be.

“It’s important for him to get that on tape so that the quarterback can say, ‘Holy cow, this guy can run; we’ve got to give him more of a look,’ ” Gruden said.

The 27-year-old hasn’t played in the Redskins’ first two preseason games, in part because of a sore leg and partly because the team wants to protect him from himself. He spent last season pushing himself through a right shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1; it didn’t land him on injured reserve until early November. Coaches, teammates and Richardson himself believe he has returned to form, and now his most difficult challenge is developing rapport with the quarterbacks.

Upon hearing Gruden’s assessment, Richardson grinned.

“I don’t think the speed goes anywhere,” he said. “It looks better when you’re running fast and the ball’s in the air.”

Speed was never the problem. The deep threat resisted IR for so long because, months before, he had signed a five-year, $40 million contract to leave Seattle, where he saw Seahawks veterans regularly play through pain. He believed that, if he could contribute, he should play. He kept running onto the field, even when his shoulder throbbed and catching became difficult. He still helped move the ball by forcing defensive pass interference penalties.

Coaches understood the severity of Richardson’s injury and urged him to let backups take practice reps to save him for Sundays, but he refused. Richardson said he respected the game too much, so when coaches sometimes took his helmet, he said he sneaked into drills without it. He wanted to earn his role and change the Redskins’ culture.

“They had guys in the past that didn’t play through certain stuff,” Richardson said. “I’m not saying everyone needs to play with a torn shoulder or a broken collarbone to prove anything, but to me, I came on here on a contract — they invested in me to be here for a while — so I wanted to show them: I didn’t get paid to chill.”

He said he toed the line between “tough and crazy” until the shoulder got so bad “I couldn’t take care of myself.” He worried that if he broke his collarbone again, it would get shorter and become too difficult to fix. He ultimately decided to get surgery after Week 9 so he could rehab without missing time this season. Since then, Richardson said he has heard from “guys around the facility” that his toughness has rubbed off on others.

At training camp this year, Richardson fell on his right shoulder several times but said he felt no lingering pain. There has been no soreness or swelling. He feels equipped physically, and his next step was to get comfortable with the three quarterbacks competing to start the season opener Sept. 8 at Philadelphia.

“It’s a challenge, bro, I’m going to be honest,” he said. “All the guys bring different qualities to the table that we all love.”

There are parts of all three quarterbacks that benefit the offense, Richardson said, although Colt McCoy’s leg injury has kept him out for the past two weeks and might have ended his chances at winning the job. Richardson said he admires Keenum’s bravado when throwing deep out routes, something “quarterbacks usually stay away from,” and he is particularly fond of rookie Dwayne Haskins, who, whether because of his strong arm or youthful naivete (or both), goes vertical more than the other two. He gives a burner such as Richardson the targets every wideout craves.

If Richardson stays healthy and overcomes the disappointment of last season, he will run plenty of deep routes this year. He hopes to provide the Redskins’ offense with a dynamic it needs, no matter who is under center.

“My job," he said, “is to run fast and get open.”

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