By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Richard Sherman strode to the podium for his weekly press conference Monday in a nice pair of Nikes, which was noticed by some because last season he almost always came to his pre-practice media sessions in a beat-up pair of slippers.
“The money has changed me, apparently,” Sherman said sarcastically.
In actuality, the contract extension Sherman signed this offseason, being name-checked by Barack Obama, twice, being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, landing on the cover of EA Sports’ Madden video game, none of those things had to do with him forgoing comfy slippers for sneakers on Monday.
“They got me too quick after walkthrough, I couldn’t slip into my Uggs,” Sherman explained.
And I can confirm that those ragged Uggs slippers with the squished down heels do indeed still reside in front of Sherman’s locker, his go-to footwear when he isn’t on the field. And during his nearly 12-minute session with reporters Monday, Sherman was his usual, playful self. It was something he hadn’t always been during media sessions during offseason workouts and training camp, perhaps in part because he was still upset that a couple Seattle media outlets had published a real-estate listing of the new house he purchased in the offseason, leading to unwelcome visitors.
Consider it all a small sign that Sherman, even after a big payday and so many offseason distractions, appears to be himself with Seattle’s season opener only days away.
Of course Sherman’s personality and an old pair of slippers aren’t ultimately what matter this week. What matters is if the Sherman on the field Thursday and beyond plays like the Sherman who earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2012 and 2013, like the Sherman whose play convinced the Seahawks that he was worth a contract extension that included $40 million in guaranteed money.
If the Seahawks got in 2014 the same Richard Sherman who has been the game’s best cornerback over the previous two seasons, they’d take that in a heartbeat. But head coach Pete Carroll is confident they could be getting even more this season.
“He’s had his best camp, best offseason work, clearly,” Carroll said. “He’s so disciplined about what he has been doing. His attitude has been perfect, he hasn’t missed a minute of practice, he has taken all the reps, done everything we’ve asked him to do. I think he’s been his most focused, he’s just been on it the whole time. He’s had a great camp.”
Safety Earl Thomas is the most irreplaceable player on Seattle’s defense. And there are plenty of other Pro Bowl-caliber players from the front-four to the secondary. But Sherman has clearly emerged as the face of the defense, and perhaps the team, both because of his outstanding play and also his boisterous personality. This season seemingly should be a big test for Sherman with so many offseason distractions and a drastically increased level of fame. But since the Seahawks returned to action this summer, Sherman has been, well, Sherman.
“He shows you why he’s able to do the things that he has done and be so good for this early stretch of his career, and then continue to work with great focus in pointing towards having a great year this year,” Carroll said. “He couldn’t have done anything more for us. I’m really happy to be able to report that.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn agrees, saying, “This is one of the best technical times he has had in terms of just staying on it every day, step, kick, lockout, and that requires real discipline to do that all the time, down after down.”
If Sherman remains the technician he has always been, and if his dedication to studying opponents remains intact, then no amount of notoriety or money or even new shoes are going to keep him from remaining one of the game’s best defensive players.
“It’s just being detail-oriented and staying on my P’s and Q’s,” Sherman said. “Making sure you’re being diligent in your preparation. I think I was incredibly diligent. I think as a secondary we just wanted to up the bar, up the ante and play very well, and I think we did that.”
Sherman refers to Seahawks headquarters as his sanctuary, and even if he did get caught up in the whirlwind of being one of the best players on a championship team, he knew that had to change when the team reported for camp.
“When you walk into this building, everything comes into place,” Sherman said. “I think when you step in here, it allows you to free your mind of all the distractions and everything off the field and really focus your craft to really get into what you want to get into. And to focus on getting better at the things you need to get better at. And I felt like I had areas that I had to get better at and I focused on those.
“It’s great being back in the building, it’s great being with your teammates. You kind of feel awkward and weird when you spend extended time and you spend months in the offseason, so when you spend months and you don’t have anything you kind of lose yourself for a second. You go on vacations and relax for a second and you’re like, where is my schedule? I don’t have things to do.”
Now Sherman has plenty to do, and this week it means dealing with Aaron Rodgers and one of the NFL’s top passing attacks. All season long, Sherman said his focus is on being disciplined, patient, not making the same mistake twice, and oh yeah, on “not getting bored in ball games.”
That could be a factor this season for Sherman, who has had eight interceptions in each of the past two seasons, but who was targeted much less frequently last season, and was avoided by preseason opponents almost entirely in Seattle’s first two games.
The key to avoiding that boredom, Sherman says, is to “Stay focused and understand that the ball can come at any time. Treat it like that, treat it like the ball is coming to your guy every time, which is tough when you go four quarters without the ball, and then four more quarters, but that’s what you’ve got to do.”
When Sherman and his non-slipper-covered feet walked out of the room at the end of his press conference, he asked a member of Seattle’s media relations staff about the number of press conferences left on his schedule, “What is it, 19 to go? 20?”
Nineteen or 20 more of these weekly sessions would have the Seahawks playing well into the postseason once again, and if Sherman really is even better this year, as Carroll suggests, that could go a long ways towards making another long season a reality.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.