By now you’ve read a number of articles on Richard Sherman significance as a teammate. The San Francisco 49ers signed the veteran cornerback just days ahead of the NFL free agency period. Since, he’s been seen bonding with his new teammates over hosted dinners and various recreational outings.
Since the start of San Francisco's voluntary team activities, Sherman has been heavily involved as a pseudo coach. While recovering from an injury that took place last November, Sherman has embraced the opportunity to take San Francisco’s young defensive backs under his wing. It's easy for young players to heed the direction of a four-time Pro Bowl, three-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion.
Sherman spends much of practice discussing techniques with his younger counterparts, praising the defensive backs after highlight-worthy plays and chatting alongside San Francisco’s defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley.
Despite moonlighting as an assistant coach, Hafley and the 49ers are well aware that Sherman, the player, is priority No. 1.
“When he gets back to playing, it’s going to be ‘you’re not here for that reason anymore. You’re here to go out and dominate and play at a really high level because that’s why you’re here,'” Hafley said on Wednesday. “I can’t wait for him to get out and practice. I think he’s going to bring up the competitiveness of the group. I’m excited.”
Prior to Sherman’s arrival, the 49ers lacked an experienced veteran among the cornerback group. No. 25 aside, the average age of the 49ers cornerbacks is 23 years old. Just three other corners have more than one NFL season under their belt: K'Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward and C.J. Goodwin.
In addition to his leadership, Sherman’s familiarity in Robert Saleh’s system is unparalleled. Sherman spent his first seven seasons in a near-identical scheme to what Saleh has implemented in San Francisco.
Through those similarities and complexities, Sherman and Hafley have built a mutually beneficial relationship in a few short months together. The two talk constantly. They chat on the sideline during practice and converse throughout positional meetings. Hafley joked that he and Sherman will sometimes get too far down the rabbit hole before realizing there's a faction of young players in the room with no idea what they're talking about. That's just a small sample of the rapport Sherman has already built with both the 49ers coaches and players.
“The cool thing about him is, he’s got a beginners mentality right now in the meetings. He’s taking notes. He’s asking why. It’s kind of like he’s in the room for the first time which is how pros approach things,” Hafley added. “He’ll ask really good questions and then I’ll ask him questions. The guy’s played in this system for a long time and he’s probably been the best corner to ever play in this system. So I’m going to pick his brain on how he sees things, (because) ultimately, he’s done it.”
"Coach Sherman" is eager to prove he remains his All-Pro self. Sherman, who is expected to make a full return by training camp, has shown progress via a video he posted on his Instagram accompanied by the caption, "Getting there......"
The elder statesman’s team-first mentality has become infectious among the 49ers secondary. As both the player and the coach, Sherman’s influence could be the tipping point in San Francisco's hope of returning to the playoffs in 2018.
“I think we have the same goal and I think that’s to win football games and to get him back to playing at a very high level. And I told him that on the very first day,” Hafley added. “I said ‘This isn’t you coming in here to help build a foundation and teach the rookies. This is you showing everybody, hey I’m a Pro Bowl corner. I’m an All-pro corner, and that’s why I came here.’
"He's here to play well and that's my expectation for him."