Cruz takes over at Richardson's spot


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Jan 22, 2006
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Cruz takes over at Richardson's spot

By Rick Dean
The Capital-Journal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tony Richardson should be proud of his apprentice. T-Rich trained him well.

On the day he learned of the biggest opportunity of his professional life -- the day he learned that starting fullback Tony Richardson ended an 11-year career in Kansas City by signing a two-year contract with Minnesota -- Ronnie Cruz was working his regular job. That is, he was watching special teams films.

"Then Coach Saxon (running backs coach James) came into the room,'' said Cruz, who played almost exclusively on special teams while serving as Richardson's backup as a rookie last year. "He said, 'Are you ready?' I said, 'Coach, I've been getting ready for two years.' And he said, 'Well, you're ready now, because it's official. It's done.' ''

What the Chiefs projected new fullback did then was right out of the T-Rich playbook --the blueprint for undrafted players whose faith and hard-work ethic give them a chance to become an NFL starter.

"I watched a little more special teams film before I had to leave,'' Cruz said, "I had to call the family to tell them about the opportunity that had presented itself. I went home, hugged my kids and thanked the Lord.''

The prospect of filling Richardson's shoes -- worn by one of the league's best blocking fullbacks, a two-time Pro Bowl player -- might be a little daunting for an undrafted player out of Northern State, a Division II school in Aberdeen, S.D.

But Cruz, who made the Chiefs' roster last year after spending nine weeks on the practice squad in 2004, seems ready for the challenge.

"Mike (offensive coordinator) Solari knows I can run with the ball, I can run routes and catch it, I can go in and block,'' Cruz said.

"But I also know I have to build up the confidence of my teammates and my coaches before they put me out there. It's going to take some time to prove what I can and can't do. Hopefully, there's not a lot I can't do.''

The fullback's role with the Chiefs may be changing, however.

While Priest Holmes liked having a lead blocking back and quarterback Trent Green valued Richardson's pass blocking skills, Richardson's volume of plays diminished slightly last year. When Holmes went down and out at the midseason point, Larry Johnson proved almost as effective in one-back sets as two. Kansas City also began using a third tight end as a pass-protecting fullback, and Richardson's role was further reduced.

On the field, that is. In the locker room, Richardson's emotional presence was immeasureable, especially as a mentor to the moody Johnson.

"I hate to see him go, because he was a great leader for this team and a great role model for myself,'' Cruz said. "But I had two great years to learn from him about how to practice like a pro and play like a pro. Now it's time to put that into practice. Now it's on my shoulders.''

Broader shoulders, too. Cruz, who played at 235 last year while backing up both the fullback and halfback positions, has bulked up by 15 pounds in preparation for his role as the No. 1 fullback who will add new duties to his day job.

"I figure I'll still be playing special teams until I get to T-Rich's status,'' he said. "Maybe after 10 years they'll reduce that some, but right now I'm a young guy wanting to play on everything I can.''
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