SANTA CLARA — As cornerback Richard Sherman rehabbed at home from an Achilles injury, the barking, roaring, instigating cornerback got some unexpected inspiration: his children — three-year old Rayden and two-year old Avery.
“I got to build a relationship with them,” said Sherman, who ruptured his right Achilles on Nov. 9. “My son says, ‘Daddy, you look so fast!’ My daughter was rubbing my leg, giving me ice. It was a great time for everything to happen.”
Sherman ruptured his Achilles in the third quarter of a game against the Arizona Cardinals. He had surgery soon after, and was released by the only team he’d ever known — the Seattle Seahawks — on March 9. After eight months of rehab, and signing with the rival San Francisco 49ers, Sherman took the stage on Wednesday as his new team opened training camp with a new perspective, and declared that he is “100 percent.”
“You can look at it as, ‘Woe is me, why did this happen to me? Oh, my God, why do I have to go through this?’ or, you could look at it as, ‘Man, I needed another great challenge,’” Sherman said. “‘I needed another mountain to climb. I look forward to climbing that mountain. That’s the way I treated it.”
Sherman, the Stanford product famed as a physical, brow-beating, intimidating, trash talker, had never missed a regular-season game in his six previous seasons with the Seahawks. He missed seven last season, as Seattle missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“I saw a side of myself that I never knew I had,” Sherman said. “It was one of those things where you don’t know you have to be as strong as you have to be until you have to be that strong. I was able to learn. I had more time with my kids. That helped … It allowed me to, at this point in my career, to kind of take another step and find another level. It was a challenge.”
He’ll start practicing on Thursday — with a two-days-on, one-day-off schedule through training camp — and when he hits the field, he’ll be dealing with a different kind of kids. San Francisco has eight defensive backs on their preseason roster with two years of experience or fewer, headed by rookie Tavarius Moore and second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on the team that we’re really excited about,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “I think [they] have a chance to have a good future, but, we’ve also got a ton of young guys who haven’t done it before, or who have only done it for five games or seven, whatever it is. Sherman’s a guy who’s done it year in and year out.”
Sherman spent seven years as one of the centerpieces of the Legion of Boom in Seattle, earning First-Team All-Pro honors three times, and because of that, he brings a wealth of knowledge and presence.
“People always associate the high IQ, the smartest football players, they’re usually talking about quarterbacks,” said general manager John Lynch. “… In the short time we’ve had him, he’s one of the most intelligent football players I’ve ever been around — the way he understands concepts, the way he understands even, he and Kyle will get to talking, the way he understands offense. We really do believe that that is contagious.”
San Francisco was 22nd in the NFL in passing defense last season, 24th in passing yards per attempt, 24th in passing touchdowns allowed and 24th in interceptions, with 10.
Like his rehab, Sherman looks at his new gig as a new challenge. He was kind of the mountain in Seattle, at the height of his powers. The Seahawks made the playoffs in six of his seven seasons, winning two NFC titles and a Super Bowl. San Francisco hasn’t had a winning season since 2013. Had he not injured his Achilles, Sherman may be back in Seattle this year, as the Seahawks work to find what’s next.
“It allowed me to, at this point in my career, to kind of take another step,” Sherman said. “Sometimes, I’m not saying you get complacent, but you get bored. It’s routine. You go out there, you play 16 games, you play at a high level, you go against these guys, and you enjoy it, but sometimes, throwing a wrench in the plans kind of helps you. It wakes you up. It re-ignites the fire. It takes you back to where you need to be, and that’s what I needed.”
He comes to a team that was 6-10 last year, but yet, has as much hype surrounding it as a perennial playoff team, thanks to a 5-0 mark down the stretch last season, led by new big-money quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“I’m glad he’s on our side,” Garoppolo said. “He was here all summer, and we got a little time to talk to each other, break some things down with one another. Just a great mind.”
Sherman, given his experience, was quick to joke about Garoppolo’s newfound celebrity, and the pitfalls it includes — like being plastered all over TMZ, Maxim and the New York Post for going on a date with adult film star Kiara Mia.
“We talk about the strengths and weaknesses of certain defenses, passes that he likes, people that he likes to take on dates,” Sherman said with a grin. “… We just talk ball, and got to know each other better. Got to know his family. He has a ton of brothers, so any time your guy grows up with brothers, then you know how to deal with men, and boys, and it’s a locker room, so we have some great conversations and I think it’s going to be a fun year.”
The day after he injured his Achilles, Sherman — a Compton native — called Kobe Bryant, who ruptured his Achilles in April of 2013. Bryant, having been through that rehab, served as a resource for Sherman, just as he’s ready to be a resource for the youngsters in the 49ers defensive backfield.
“There’s no secrets around me,” Sherman said. “If I know something, I try my best to convey that point, or that understanding, that knowledge to them. If I recognize a formation, if I recognize a tendency, I recognize a tendency in the quarterback, or offense or receiver, then they’ll have that same information.”
By passing his physical, Sherman earned a tidy $2 million roster bonus. He plans to invest it. That’s who Sherman is now — the wise, savvy old guy. He’s not a fan of the term. As he stroked his beard in the Levi’s Stadium auditorium, he said, “How about veteran?” Grizzled veteran? That got a considerate “Hmm.” Whatever you call him, with so many young defensive backs, Sherman is as valuable for his skill set on the field as for his skill set in the locker room.
“You’ve got to have that edge to you where you know that you can succeed,” said Shanahan. “Sherm has that, and I think a lot of our younger guy have the ability to have that. That comes with success, and that comes with having a guy like Sherman to lean on.”