It’s not crazy to criticize the free agent signing of 30-year-old cornerback Richard Sherman, who is coming off of two surgeries and played only nine games last season — IF you only see him as a player. Speed is crucial for CBs, and even seven years ago, his NFL draft scouting report criticized his pokey 4.56 40-yard dash time.
“Sherman is a size prospect with some good intangibles that will help him mold into a contributing backup corner for a press-heavy team. However, he does not possess the natural coverage instincts, fluidity or burst to be considered a future starter.”
Oops! That uncredited writer wasn’t the only person to sleep on Sherm, since he was drafted in the 5th round, No. 154 overall in the 2011 draft (right after 49ers legend Jeremy Kerley). But that’s the nature of intangibles, I guess — it’s hard to measure or weigh them, by definition.
It’s already clear that Sherman’s role, in addition to being a likely starting outside corner, will be to coach up the many young defensive backs on this team and teach them the Seattle-style Cover 3 scheme that he has personified his whole career. He was observed doing that in the first public day of OTAs last week, even though he wasn’t yet cleared to participate himself.
At his press conference Wednesday, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spelled out this part of Sherman’s contribution:
He really is a great leader. … He’s got tremendous knowledge of football and he’s got all these little player tricks that he can share with these guys. We’ve got such a young group that when he does speak, they do listen.”
The Stanford graduate — he pursued a master’s degree in his final year of football there — is a videotape junky who has notes on every receiver in the NFL. And he has a special bond with his new head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan is only eight years older, and both men played wide receiver for two years in college (Shanny at Texas, Sherman at Stanford before Jim Harbaugh converted him to cornerback.) And since Sherm signed with the 49ers, they’ve been comparing notes on all the games where they have faced each other. Both remember the details to this day.
Last week, Shanahan told reporters what they talk about:
“...it’s always X’s and O’s stuff. We both have a lot of history playing against each other’s teams so there’s lots of stuff that when we talk X’s and O’s, it brings up a couple plays from year’s prior that we could sit there and hang out and talk all day about.”
Here’s a quick sketch of the six games where the two have faced each other since Sherman entered the NFL.
Week 12 of 2011 (Washington beat Seattle, 23-17)
Seattle, behind QB Tarvaris Jackson, lost on Rex Grossman’s 50-yard TD to Anthony Armstrong (beating CB Brandon Browner). Sherman, who had recently began starting for Seattle, had 7 tackles, a pass break up and an interception.
Wild card round, 2012 (Seattle beat Washington, 24-14)
Sherman started his first playoff game but did not appear in the box score. That reflected his sudden rise to stardom that year, with 8 INTs, 24 pass breakups and 2 TDs that season — not to mention intercepting Tom Brady to seal a win (“You mad, bro?”). No one wanted to challenge him by this point.
In this game, Seattle won a battle of rookie QBs as Russell Wilson shined while RGIII’s career ended with his knee disintegrating into a confetti of bone shreds and gristle.
Week 6, 2016 (Seattle beat Atlanta, 26-24)
The two 2016 games were classics, and likely the main topic of Sherm and Shanny’s discussions. Atlanta’s 3-TD burst in the 3rd quarter of this one left Sherman furious and yelling at his teammates on the sideline. Then he had two key plays while defending Julio Jones as Seattle scored 9 in the 4th quarter to pull out the win. First, Sherman tipped a pass with 3:48 left that Earl Thomas intercepted, setting up the game-winning field goal. Then, on Atlanta’s last desperation drive, he had a key pass breakup on Jones (as Atlanta fans screamed for DPI).
Divisional round, 2016 (Atlanta beat Seattle, 36-20)
Count the rematch for Kyle Shanahan. Richard Sherman had eight tackles but no INTs or PBUs, and Earl Thomas was out injured. Meanwhile, Matty Ice was 26-37 for 338 yards and 3 TDs. CBS Sports wrote “It was as complete and thorough a beatdown as you’ll see.”
Week 2 of 2017 (Seattle beat San Francisco, 12-9)
Last year’s games were not quite as interesting or high quality. The two teams barely managed 20 points between them in Kyle Shanahan’s second game as head coach. San Francisco didn’t get a touchdown in either of its first two games, and Hoyer was 15-27 for just 99 yards. Sherman had 5 tackles but no PBUs or INTs.
Week 12, 2017 (Seattle won, 24-13)
Sherman and Kam Chancellor were both out. When CJ Beathard got injured at the end of the game, Jimmy Garoppolo came in and quickly scored his first 49ers touchdown, launching the 49ers second great Super Bowl dynasty. Probably.