A reception of an interception

Posted Sep 14, 2012

When Richard Sherman saw a pass heading out of bounds in the Seahawks’ opener, the second-year cornerback relied on the skills he learned as a college receiver to make the improbable interception.

He made the read of the play look remedial. His tracking of the ball was, well, right on track. His positioning was precise. He not only uncoiled while leaning out of bounds to make the sideline grab, he made sure he got both feet inbounds.

It was a catch a Pro Bowl wide receiver would be proud to claim. Except that it was turned in by second-year cornerback Richard Sherman in the Seahawks’ season-opening loss to the Cardinals in Arizona last week.

Sherman was a wide receiver at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. – and a highly regarded pass-catcher, at that – in addition to playing defensive back. He played wide receiver his first three seasons at Stanford, catching 81 passes for a 16.5-yard average and seven touchdowns, before moving to cornerback.

So the Seahawks’ fifth-round pick in last year’s NFL Draft has looked at this pitch-and-pick situation from both sides now, and says his time as receiver has made him a better corner.

“It definitely helps in situations like that,” Sherman said this week, when the Seahawks have been preparing for Sunday’s home opener against the Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field. “I guess it’s a body-control thing that you get used to from catching the ball for so long, running routes for so long. You just get used to being in those positions.

“It’s just like riding a bike.”

But when the topic turned to his impressive sideline interception of a pass Cardinals QB John Skelton threw while being pressured by defensive end Chris Clemons, Sherman backpedaled – the extrovert suddenly going introvert.

“It was just a play I wanted to make, and thought I could make,” he said. “So I tried to put my body in position to get it done.”

And Sherman needed every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame and the full extension his lanky legs and long arms to get it done – on a pass where it appeared Skelton was trying to throw the ball out of bounds.

As teammate Doug Baldwin put it, “Sherman’s a long guy, so he can make that play.”

But to find out just how impressive Sherman’s catch was, we went to those who should know.

Like Baldwin. Last year’s leading receiver, after being college teammates with Sherman at Stanford, definitely appreciated the effort.

“There’s no critique necessary,” Baldwin said. “He did everything he was supposed to do. He tracked the ball. He looked it all the way in. Got both feet in. He did a helluva job.

“He was a receiver in college, so it’s natural to him. So there was no surprise there.”

Then there was this from Kippy Brown, the Seahawks’ wide receivers coach: “It was a very nice play. He’s done that before. That wasn’t the first time he’s had to do that, and he had enough athletic ability to pull it off. He makes a lot of plays in practice, too, so that didn’t surprise me.”

Sherman had four interceptions during his rookie season, all after stepping in as the third option on the left side for the final 10 games after Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond were lost to season-ending injuries. The other three members of the secondary – free safety Earl Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor and right cornerback Brandon Browner – ended up playing in the Pro Bowl. But scouts will tell you that it was Sherman who was playing the best of the four at the end of the season.

And the Seahawks will need everything each of them can bring against the Cowboys, with Tony Romo adding Kevin Olgetree to a collection of dangerous pass-catchers that already included tight end Jason Witten and wide receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

Bryant had four receptions for 76 yards and Witten four for 71 and a touchdown in the Cowboys’ 23-13 victory over the Seahawks in Texas last season. Austin had five catches for 61 yards and a TD in the Cowboys’ 38-17 victory over the Seahawks in 2010. Olgetree had eight catches for 114 yards and two TDs in the Giants’ 24-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in their opener.

The timing is right for Sherman the corner to become Sherman the receiver, again.

“Richard thinks like a receiver,” Baldwin said. “So he knows concepts. He knows routes. He knows that if we’re breaking on the inside release that we’re most likely going to go to the inside. He picks up on all of those things because he’s been on the other side of the ball before, so that definitely helps him out.

“He’s just a highly intelligent player with a long body, and all that contributes to him being successful.”