SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When safety Adrian Colbert walked into the San Francisco 49ers training room on Wednesday, after reporting for camp on Wednesday, Richard Sherman was waiting for him.
“He’s like, ‘Hey, you know I’m going to hold you to a higher standard than you were last year. You’re not a rookie no more,'” Colbert said on Thursday.
Sherman has a pair of Super Bowl appearances on his resumé, and is a three-time All-Pro. Colbert was a question mark at this time last year, playing corner before moving to safety out of necessity. Eager to learn, Colbert has a willing teacher in Sherman, who, aside from taking the young secondary out for dinner, has already paid dividends for a group that held Jimmy Garoppolo to 4-of-9 passing on Thursday in the team’s first practice of training camp.
“He’s holding me accountable, holding me accountable to making sure my footsteps are on point, making sure my footwork is locked in, making sure I know responsibilities, making sure I’m communicating with both corners and myself and [safety Jaquiski] Tartt,” Colbert said. “That’s Uncle Sherm right there.”
Having played both corner and safety in college, Colbert profiled as a special teams contributor, if anything, when he was picked in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. He had played 15 games in two seasons with Texas before transferring to Florida, where he played in seven, recording 22 tackles in 2016.
“I played six games [sic], I mean, I wouldn’t draft me either,” Colbert said.
Last season for the 49ers, Colbert wound up playing 14 games, with 37 combined tackles, five passes defended and two forced fumbles. After an offseason with Uncle Sherms, he’s even more comfortable at safety.
Colbert worked out with Sherman’s former teammate Earl Thomas in Texas this summer, and learned about how Thomas and Sherman communicated in Seattle, giving him a bit of color as to how to communicate more effectively this season.
“The relationship that they have, it really helps,” Colbert said. “It’s really going to help me. Like, try to establish the same relationship that he has, that he had with Earl, with Ahkello [Witherspoon] and whoever else I play with.”
Last year, San Francisco owned the No. 24 defense in the NFL, with six defensive starters 23 years of age or younger. Two of those were Colbert and Witherspoon.
Witherspoon, second-year safety Chanceller James and Colbert are collectively known as James, James and James — Witherspoon’s given first name is James, as is Colbert’s. James Richard Garoppolo isn’t allowed in the club.
“I call him ‘Franchise,'” Colbert said.
The fact that the secondary has developed such a personality — even before the addition of Sherman — bodes well for a position group that’s often fueled by swagger.
“We’re just all finally getting comfortable with each other,” Colbert said. “We’re all hanging out with each other and getting to know each other more. When you first meet somebody, you’re not going to be 100 percent yourself. You hold back, because you don’t know how to respond.
“Now, we’ve been through the hard times. We’ve been through the good times. We’ve had OTAs together. We’re in our second training camp together. We’re comfortable with each other. It’s like a brotherhood.”
On Thursday, rookie Tavarius Moore had a strip pick on rookie receiver Dante Pettis, and third-year DB Tyvus Powell had a pick on quarterback Nick Mullens. Witherspoon also looked good. Marquise Goodwin made several circus catches, but for the most part, the secondary — including eight players with two years of experience or less — was impressive.
“So, for us, it’s about repetition,” said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “It takes 10,000 hours to get good at something. We start from square one every time. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been in the system. I’m sure it was boring for Sherm, but I’m sure he picked something up. We always start from square one and then go from there.”
Sherman, labeled by general manager John Lynch as one of the brightest football players he’s seen, may not have gotten his hands on the ball on Thursday, but his influence was felt in his first practice since rupturing his Achilles while playing for the Seattle Seahawks against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 9.
He held a constant dialogue with Saleh and defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley throughout practice, pointing out tells in the 49ers’ offense.
“Sherm’s always digging,” Saleh said. “He’s always digging to find the tell and that’s just the way he works. That’s his mind.”
That information wasn’t relayed to the offensive coaches, at least not yet. Once the team moves into self-scouting and game planning, there will be more scheme talk. At this point, though, the defense is all about fundamentals, effort, and — Saleh said — “violence.” Given Sherman’s history of physicality on the field, that shouldn’t be a problem.adrian colbertNFLRichard ShermanSan Francisco 49ersTavarius MooreTyvus Powell