Richard Sherman was recruited by Pete Carroll to play cornerback at USC. Instead, he went to Stanford to be a receiver. In the NFL, he's proving to be a perfect cornerback for Carroll's Seahawks.
RENTON — Richard Sherman was built to play cornerback.
At least that’s what coach Pete Carroll thought. This was years before the Seahawks drafted Sherman to play that position. Before Sherman went to play wide receiver at Stanford, even.
This was all the way back when Sherman attended Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., and Carroll was trying to sell him on USC.
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“He said I was the perfect size for a lockdown corner,” Sherman said.
So naturally, Sherman went to Stanford to catch passes instead of defend them, but six years and one position switch later, Carroll’s first impression is looking more like a prophecy. Standing 6 feet 3, Sherman is one half of a cornerback tandem that is notable for both its length and its strength. And if you’re looking for the key to what is considered one of the NFL’s rising young defenses, best start on the outside with Brandon Browner and Sherman.
“This system is always really corner-oriented,” Carroll said. “In college, I always wanted to be ‘Corner U’ because when you can have the ability to do the things we do with those corners, it allows us to do a lot of other things defensively.”
So much for Student Body Right at USC, huh? Carroll was more bump and run, asking his corners to be both physical and fast with those receivers on the outside.
So why are cornerbacks so important to this defense? The answer to that question is a little counterintuitive because it has to do with stopping the run.
“The No. 1 priority for us is to be able to stop the run,” said Kris Richard, Seattle’s secondary coach. “So in order to do so, you have to have corners that can stand up against the pass. You will not be able to stop the run if you have corners who just allow quarterbacks to stand up and throw the ball out there.”
The middle of Seattle’s defense is formidable, the Seahawks starting three defensive linemen who weigh in excess of 310 pounds each. But that wall is effective only if Seattle’s cornerbacks can keep the opposing quarterback from finding a way around it in the short passing game.
For years, that was exactly what Seattle’s opponents were able to do. The Seahawks allowed the most passing yards in the league in 2008. They were better in 2009, but barely, allowing the third-most. They were only sixth-worst in 2010, and then came last year’s breakthrough.
Browner intercepted six passes last season, the most by any Seahawk since Marcus Trufant picked off seven in 2007. Sherman was a fifth-round pick who became a starter in Week 8 yet he finished with four picks, most of any NFL rookie in 2011.
It was the first time since 2004 that Seattle had two cornerbacks with four or more interceptions in the same season.
And as Carroll looks at his defense this season, he’s encouraged by those two pillars he’s found outside.
“We’re just at the cusp of doing some really good things here, I think,” Carroll said. “We’re big and we’re tall, and long and fast, and playmaker-oriented.”
And Sherman is playing just like Carroll imagined he could back in high school, when he looked at his long frame and thought he had the perfect build for a cornerback.
“That was my email (address) for a while,” Sherman said. “Something like ‘Lockdown2006.’ “
It might be 2012, and that label is no less appropriate.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @dannyoneil