RENTON — By complete accident on the first day of training camp, Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley cued up some video of camp from a year ago where a rookie fifth-round pick named Richard Sherman was still trying to figure out how it’s done at the professional level.
“He was all out of whack,” Bradley recalled. “But they all went, ‘Wow, what a difference from how he is now to back then.’”
Since he first walked into the Seahawks practice facility, Sherman oozed confidence. But when it came time during his rookie season to back up that brash, sometimes borderline cocky attitude, Sherman proved a vital part of Seattle’s talented young secondary.
Now comes Year 2 for Sherman amid beliefs that the Seahawks have one of the best defensive backfields in football.
“We hold each other accountable. We hold each other to a very, very high standard and that’s what we go after,” Sherman said. “We don’t’ think about what other people (say) because that will change, that will fluctuate. Our standards don’t change, don’t fluctuate. Our standards are always high for one another.”
What makes Sherman’s rise from a low-round draft pick coming out of Stanford to an NFL starter within the first six weeks of his rookie season truly remarkable is his relative inexperience at the position. By the time most defensive backs get to the NFL and become starters, they have spent at least a dozen or so years playing the position extensively. Not Sherman. He spent his first two years at Stanford playing wide receiver before making the switch to the defensive side before the start of his junior season. The move was made to bolster his NFL chances with his lanky 6-foot-2 frame, good hands and quick feet an attractive combination for teams looking to find bigger cornerbacks to match up with larger receivers.
But Sherman also finds advantages to having that experience on the offensive side.
“You definitely get it from offense because you can understand what they’re trying to do,” Sherman said. “You understand why these two receivers are so close. You understand why this receiver is so wide. You can understand why this receiver is on the opposite hash and they’re still on the numbers; they’re trying to spread you out and create room and create space. And most teams are running a West Coast offense and that’s what we ran at Stanford.”
Sherman played in all 16 games in his rookie season and started 10, taking over after Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond III went down with injuries. While it was a concern at first to throw such an inexperienced player out there, Sherman finished the year with 46 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble.
According to STATS LLC, which tracks the number of times defenders are burned by receivers, Sherman was beaten 37 times in 88 targets last season for a rate of 42 percent. By comparison, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was targeted 89 times and burned 36, a rate of 40.4 percent. Of cornerbacks with 80 or more targets against in 2011, Sherman’s rate was fifth-lowest in the NFL, according to STATS.
“A lot of guys play off instincts. I play off some instincts and a lot more anticipation. Anticipation of routes, anticipation of concepts of formations, things of that nature,” Sherman said. “It makes me a better player because I can see a formation and diagnose it, I’ve seen it before, I’ve seen it on film and it puts you in better position.”
Sherman was the only member of the Seahawks secondary not selected for the Pro Bowl — either as a starter, reserve or injury replacement — but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of confidence. His teammates have just come to expect a constant stream of talk coming from Sherman.
“As long as he backs it up I just let him be him,” safety Earl Thomas said. “Everybody has different personalities. You have to live with it and that’s part of knowing your teammate.”