Sports

John McGrath: Richard Sherman has the market cornered, for better or worse

Richard Sherman is the embodiment of the Yogi Berra quote about a restaurant being so popular, nobody goes there any more.

Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback, has achieved such renown for his skill at picking off passes that he went unnoticed during his team’s nationally televised thumping of Green Bay on Thursday.

Sherman’s job is to line up on the left side of the defense and smother-cover a wide receiver, which in the opener happened to be Jarrett Boykin. Not surprisingly, Boykin didn’t catch a pass — he didn’t even see one thrown within a half-mile — but at the end of the night, Sherman proved so adept at his role that he recorded nary a stat.

It was as if Sherman didn’t exist, a source of frustration traditionally shared by new kids on the block, wedding guests on a first date with the second cousin of the bride, and U.S. vice presidents.

But Richard Sherman? The guy Time magazine identified as one of the world’s 100 most influential persons? He takes the field for a game surrounded by hype and pageantry unprecedented in Seattle, his team excels en route to a 36-16 victory, and his contribution to the enchanted evening is eliminating somebody named Jarrett Boykin as a target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers?

No wonder Sherman approached Rodgers, moments after the Hawks took their final kneel-down, and asked: “Were you avoiding me?”

The question wasn’t posed in the taunting, “You mad, bro?” tone of Sherman’s 2012 encounter with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Sherman just needed official confirmation of the obvious, and he got it with a one-word response from Rodgers.

“Yup.”

As difficult as it was for Sherman to be reduced into a spectator during the opener, the NFL’s first regular-season Sunday figured to his extend his frustration past the point of maddening.

San Francisco cornerback Perrish Cox, formerly of the Seahawks, was among the three 49ers defenders who intercepted a Tony Romo pass in Dallas. Minnesota free safety Harrison Smith not only picked off backup-to-the-backup Rams quarterback Austin Davis, Smith returned it for an 81-yard touchdown.

Cleveland cornerback Karlos Dansby intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in Pittsburgh, and Oakland safety Charles Woodson increased his career pick total to 57 against the Jets. But Dansby and Woodson are veterans at this drill.

More curious is how Buffalo defensive tackle Kyle Williams, listed at 6-foot-1 and 303 pounds, managed to grab a Jay Cutler pass intended for Bears tight end Martellus Bennett in Chicago.

“I don’t know what happened on that,” Bennett said. “The fat guy got a pick.”

A 303-pound defensive tackle, in any case, made more plays during Week One than the cornerback whose touchdown-saving tip in last season’s NFC Championship game ranks as the most pivotal play in Seahawks history: a cornerback who yearns for the gaudiest of spotlights and is not particularly enthusiastic about performing grunt work away from them.

(Not to demean the athletic prowess of Boykin, signed by the Packers after Jacksonville cut him as an undrafted rookie out of Virginia Tech in 2012, but removing him as an pass-catching option for Rodgers is the definition of “grunt work.”)

Sherman was saying all the right things Friday about his stealthy contribution Thursday. The pursuit of a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy, he knows, cannot revolve around one player.

He knows, too, that Pete Carroll’s defensive system of confining cornerbacks to one side of the field, regardless of the match-up, has produced results that should supersede any temptation to fix what clearly ain’t broken.

And yet I wonder how long Sherman can endure the challenge of playing games that deprive him the opportunity to make a conspicuous impact. He’s an elite defensive back in his prime, he lives to compete, and it seems almost heartless to turn him into a pawn whose responsibility is to negate an opposite pawn on a crowded chess board rich with possibilities.

Might Carroll consider appointing Sherman as the primary cover corner on either side of the field? It’s a thought, but I’m not sure that’s a message — “we’ll rearrange our scheme to placate the superstars” — the coach wants to send.

Another idea would be to give Sherman an occasional shot on offense as a pass receiver, similar to the carrot safety Earl Thomas has been offered to return punts. It’s not crazy: Sherman was a wide receiver at Stanford — and a good one — before former Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh asked Sherman to help fill a depleted secondary.

On the other hand ...

Nah.

Sherman is a pro, and the essential requirement of a pro is fulfilling tasks that can’t be quantified on a stat sheet.

And while I wouldn’t blame him for throwing a shoe at his TV on Sunday, when Harrison Smith scored on an 81-yard interception return and Kyle Williams nabbed a pass as a defensive tackle, Richard Sherman can always dwell on the bright side of obscurity.

That night against Green Bay, when the Packers prohibited him from contributing on the stat sheet? It extended his career one game longer.

john.mcgrath

@thenewstribune.com

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