It’s like clockwork. A few hours after each practice, San Francisco 49ers defensive backs coach Joe Woods receives a text.
Woods will have already run through the day’s film by this time. He knows he needs to be prepared for the message from Richard Sherman.
“How did I do?” Sherman will ask Woods. “What do I need to work on?”
It’s a routine that Sherman has stuck to since his days with the Seattle Seahawks under defensive backs coach-turned-defensive coordinator Kris Richard. After the corner has had his post-practice meal, rehab and time in the cold tub, his focus shifts to reviewing tape.
Sherman said he watches every play of every practice. It’s also common for him to sit in the locker room and comb through specific plays with a few teammates. But on a personal level, Sherman wants to make sure that what he felt on the practice field comes through on film.
He’ll simultaneously check with Woods to confirm they’re seeing the same thing.
“I’m just trying to be coachable and trying to be on the details and stay sharp,” Sherman said. “Everyone needs to be understanding of where they need to get better and never being complacent.”
They’re on the same page for the most part. There are times, even when Sherman has a good rep, where Woods will point out small missteps that will help the corner cover an extra yard in coverage.
“I’ll go through my notes and say, ‘Hey, you did this well. You can improve on this.’ He’s very prideful,” Woods said. “Giving up a play on the practice field means something to him. … I make sure to evaluate every play because I know he’s going to text me.”
When the two disagree, it leads to positive conversation about thought process, technique, scheme and the overarching goals of the defense. They’ll cover everything from Day 1 fundamentals down to the smallest minutia in Sherman’s pursuit of mastery.
“It’s consistency, consistency, consistency,” Sherman said. “You just want to be perfect, and I’ve yet to have a perfect game or a perfect practice.”
Woods’ résumé gives him instant credibility with his players, including a three-time All-Pro like Sherman. He’s coached eight different players to 15 Pro Bowls. Woods also has a unique connection to Sherman through current Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason.
Mason worked under Woods with the Minnesota Vikings from 2007-09 before being hired by Stanford. There he spent one season as Sherman’s defensive backs coach in 2010. Woods said he remembers Mason calling him before the 2011 NFL Draft in order to put Sherman on his radar.
“He’s coached a lot of great corners,” Sherman said of Woods. “He’s coached at the highest level. He’s coached Super Bowls. He’s coached a lot of guys I respect. … I respect everything he does, and I enjoy working with him.”
The conversation last year surrounded Sherman’s anticipated return from an Achilles tear. Looking back, the reality of the corner’s first season in San Francisco could never match the anticipation. Sherman never reached 100 percent from a health standpoint. Random ailments popped up due to overcompensating from his Achilles injury. Woods said he could see Sherman laboring when watching tape from 2018.
Now Sherman is the talk of OTAs. He admitted last week this is the healthiest he’s felt in years, and he can finally “move and groove” the way he used to. It’s also evident, given his daily messages to Woods, that he remains hell-bent on proving his All-Pro days aren’t behind him.
“I feel like he’ll be more of the Richard Sherman that we’re used to seeing,” Woods said.