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Richard Sherman’s unwavering support of his teammates shows his growth as a leader

After defeating the Packers on Sunday, Richard Sherman was emphatic in the backing of his teammates, demonstrating the growth in his leadership.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

After Richard Sherman’s nasty, public breakup with the Seahawks at the end of the 2017 season, the ex-Stanford corner’s leadership was in question after multiple incidents with the team. Seattle was splitting at the seams on defense after multiple deep Super Bowl runs, and Sherman’s loud, verbal personality was being viewed as a distraction.

During a meeting in 2017, Sherman confronted former teammate Germain Ifedi about where rookies and veterans should be sitting. The former fifth-round pick later told those close to him that the issue was deeper and reflected Seattle’s lack of accountability from the top.

It didn’t just stop with Ifedi, the outspoken star also criticized the team’s soft handling of quarterback Russell Wilson and noted that Pete Carroll’s message to the team was starting to wear off with the veterans on the roster.

Coming off of an odd breakup, San Francisco did not hesitate to hand out a heavily incentivized contract to Sherman to switch allegiances and become one of the veteran leaders on their young secondary.

Naturally, it brought up the question — how was this highly vocal player going to act if the 49ers season went sideways or if the offense wasn’t performing up to the mark?

San Francisco had a first-time head coach, traded for a quarterback that had a handful of starts, and had a largely unproven and untested defense. Was Sherman going to be patient with a 49ers’ organization that had not tasted winning since he ended their run in 2013?

Not only has the 49ers’ corner been outstanding on the field, but his unwavering support and encouragement of his teammates have also shown his growth as a veteran and leader for this franchise.

For instance, scroll through Richard Sherman’s Twitter timeline, and one will find retweets and support of all his defensive teammates, pleading fans to vote them into the Pro Bowl and get the proper recognition they deserve.

Is that not enough? After the 49ers demolished the Packers on Sunday Night Football, I stepped into the 49ers’ locker room and caught up with Sherman before he met with the media.

During our brief conversation, Sherman emphatically explained how the national media needs to start recognizing the sound defensive play from some of the underrated players, especially late-round guys like Emmanuel Moseley, D.J. Jones, or K’Waun Williams.

Sherman is one of the 49ers’ players that regularly meets with the media post-game, and he is constantly pumping up his teammates, and Sunday’s post-game media session was no different.

I asked the 49ers’ corner about the play of defensive back Jimmie Ward — who had two key passes defended — and here’s what Sherman had to say:

He’s [Jimmie Ward] making himself a ton of money. Jimmie Ward is one of the most underrated guys on our team. I think for a long time, he’s been sort of the step child here. He’s forced to play multiple positions, out of position and he’s made no excuse in his play...he deserves a ton more credit from the fans...I don’t think there’s enough appreciation there. And he’s playing well on a contract year when he bet on himself and I hope everyone sees it.

The dishing out of praise didn’t just stop with Ward, Sherman also made sure to give everyone a piece of his mind on 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:

Jimmy Garoppolo is our leader, and we will follow him into the darkest of dark. We’ll follow him into a dark alley, and I guarantee you won’t touch him... You hear some of the noise and things said about him. It’s frustrating, because we see him every day. We see what kind of work ethic he puts in, the hours he puts in, being the first one in and the last one out. The guy looks for no credit. All he does is encourage his teammates and puts more work in.

This has been the weekly message from Sherman. It’s been pretty plain and simple — start to respect the 49ers’ players, because they are better than the media is giving them credit for.

He’s boosting their confidence every week through his boisterous press conferences, and it’s translating on the field. The secondary is fearless, plays with a lot of swagger and has taken on Richard Sherman’s persona on and off the field.

When San Francisco brought the Stanford defender into the building last season, they were hoping Sherman’s staunch confidence would start to resonate and influence the rest of the young group. Twenty-seven games into Sherman’s tenure, the defense is a reflection of his attitude.

While his vocalness began to rub players and coaches the wrong way in Seattle, Sherman’s maturity as a leader off the field has molded this group into a playoff contender that has absolutely no fear and is looking to make a deep run this January.