Richard Sherman's road to the NFL has been anything but typical. Only after taking the field as a wide receiver for the Stanford Cardinal and earning Freshman All-American honors, did he make the switch to cornerback, the position at which he turned in a stellar performance for the Seattle Seahawks in 2011.
As an offensive skill player on the outside, and later a corner, Sherman was rarely involved in any defensive play commonly referred to as a "blitz". He ran his route, or covered his man, and excelled at it. Coach Jim Harbaugh never directed him any other way. He never had to.
After being drafted by the Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Sherman has made a reputation for himself as a committed, intelligent student of the game, often staying late at the VMAC to study film.
However, early in rookie camp, Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard noticed something amiss. The coaching staff was installing a corner blitz, where Sherman was supposed to quickly react to the snap and tenaciously pursue the QB. However, every time, Sherman would start popping and locking instead of getting after the quarterback. Inevitably, the receiver lined up against him would slip downfield for a long, easy gain. Says Richard, "Here we are, it's hot, there is a lot of pressure on these kids to get this quickly, and he starts dancing. I was like, he went to Stanford, what is going on down there?"
It's rarely reported, but one simple and understandable misunderstanding nearly sabotaged Richard Sherman's budding career.
Sherman, like everyone else that enters the Seahawks' program, quickly became enamored with the 12th Man, and its champion and mascot, a big blue bird named Blitz.
He was fast, strong and fierce. He performed with aplomb, humor and grace. Sherman had vaguely heard about these so-called Blitzes a lot in college, but in his transition from receiver to corner, had only focused in on what he would be responsible for on the outside. There had been a lot on his plate back then. But, he was looking forward to incorporating that part of the game into his repertoire. So, he consulted the tape, and along with all the X's and O's he digested, Blitz's charisma, panache, and pizzaz stayed with him.
This inappropriate dancing scene repeated itself at practice a couple times, and Sherman grew increasingly frustrated by the tongue-lashings he received. He was told to stop goofing off, to get serious, and that his job was in jeopardy if he couldn't be a professional. He was a fifth round pick, and was never guaranteed a roster spot.
But every time Richard stressed that Sherman was supposed to 'blitz' the quarterback, Sherman looked back quizzically. Eventually, in what was the last straw for Richard, Sherman was sent to the locker room after imitating Usain Bolt's "lightning" pose while Kris Durham scored a touchdown.
The truth didn't dawn on Kris Richard until after practice. He returned inside the VMAC to find Sherman, wearing the Mascot's pants, practicing, well, what can only be described as "mascot moves."
"I'm going to get this coach, I never fail anything twice!"
Kris Richard suddenly realized, in an epiphanic moment of clarity: Sherman wasn't blitzing, he was Blitz-ing. And he was doing a goddamn good job of it.