TAMPA, Florida – Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Richard Sherman hopped on a flight, a Boeing 738 to be exact, and flew 2,520 miles from Seattle to Tampa on Sept. 28, practicing for two days, and at the age 33 years old. , who hadn’t played in the NFL in 288 days, lined up for all but one of the 54 defensive plays against the New England Patriots five days later.
Sherman learned he would play Friday or Saturday, but it wasn’t until Saturday night, when starter Jamel Dean still couldn’t push his injured knee, that Sherman learned he would start a tough Todd Bowles defense. . He had also barely scratched the surface of learning it at the time.
“In the middle of the game, I realized that there was going to be a rotation, once [Carlton Davis] it came out, ”Sherman said. “Once that happened, the plan was thrown out the window.”
His help was supposed to be cornerback Pierre Desir, who was elevated from the practice team the day before. But at the end of the second quarter, Desir was forced to replace Davis, who at the time was her only original starter. In the final two series of the game, the Bucs had one of the original five starting defensive backs, Jordan Whitehead, because safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) left the game.
“I started going into ‘energy conservation mode’ throughout the game,” Sherman said. “You hate to say you saved something to swim back in, but it’s like you didn’t have a choice at the time. Because I don’t know exactly what I have for the rest of the game. … And still, in the fourth quarter, my legs were like jelly, but you have to pass like a soldier and do what you can to help the team. “
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A week later, in the Bucs ’47-15 win over the Miami Dolphins, and the first time Sherman played in a 1 p.m. ET game in Tampa, where it was 84 degrees, the Bucs’ offense scored three times within six minutes. in the fourth trimester.
“Yeah, I kept talking to him today because, you know, he didn’t play in this series for a while,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “He said ‘No, I’m going to get oxygen and I’ll be back.’ “
Sherman won’t be resting long as the Bucs travel to the Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) on Thursday night (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX), their third game in 12 days.
However, you are not the only one who has to adapt.
“I’ve never been in this situation before,” cornerback coach Kevin Ross said. “I’ve never been in this situation here before. No, uh-uh. I had one or two downed men … This is something unique. You have three or four downed men.”
How exactly did we get here, with the defending Super Bowl champs forced to “plug and play” players in one of the most volatile position groups in the NFL?
Whitehead missed a large portion of training camp and the first week of the regular season due to a hamstring injury. They then lost starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who is also their nickel running back, to injured reserve with a dislocated elbow in Week 1.
They lost Dean for most of Week 3 and all of Week 4 with the knee injury, though he was able to return for Week 5. Davis is also now on IR, and Arians says he doesn’t look like he needs surgery, but also admitting , “I have no idea how long this is going to be,” while Winfield has yet to pass the concussion protocol.
To make matters worse, the longtime defensive captain and best coverage linebacker Lavonte David will be out this week after spraining his ankle against the Dolphins.
For Sherman, there has been no time to blink. Ditto for Desir, who was in a similar situation last season when the New York Jets cut him and called him off the Baltimore Ravens practice team to the active roster.
It means living in a hotel, packing a suitcase in an unfamiliar city, studying for 3-4 hours every night, trying to prepare for a weekly exam, let alone getting to a place where your body and brain work together as one.
“It took many hours to come and go. A lot of questions that may have been silly to other guys, but I didn’t know, ”Sherman said. “Even during the whole process of the week, there would be controls. It’s only human nature to assume [we all knew what’s going on] because we are in the season. It’s not like you’re doing installations anymore. They’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, we just do this check, this check, and this check.’ I’d say, ‘Hey, uh, what exactly does that mean? So do I have it? OK perfect. Sorry.'”
However, he has been in this position before, when he was with the San Francisco 49ers.
“It was like that every year,” Sherman said. “Every year, we lose two, three guys. My first year we were there, I mean we lost three guys in a game once. … That’s something about professionals: everyone is capable of doing the job.
“You are only as strong as your weakest link. You have to make sure everyone is prepared. You have to treat everyone as important. “
For Sherman, the phone calls to his wife and children, who were at the game Sunday, have kept him level-headed and given him perspective. For Desir, it’s the reminder that he’s been through much worse. He immigrated to the United States from Haiti when he was four years old and had his first child at 16.
“Soccer is easy. When it comes to what I’ve been through, growing up in poverty, growing up and having to sacrifice and scratch myself [and claw]And being a teenage parent, I’ve been through a lot, ”Desir said. “When it comes to soccer and having those kinds of adversities, I turn to those experiences and then I say, ‘You know what? This is just soccer. You’ve handled it a lot worse. ‘
Once the youngest defensive backfield in the NFL, averaging 23 years old in Super Bowl LV, the group has grown rapidly, in more ways than one.
“If the group had stayed young and we were replacing the young people with young boys, I would say that we could not do [this]”Said Ross.” When you have guys like Sherman, when you have guys like Rashard [Robinson]When you have guys like Pierre, these are veterans. They have been through a few battles before. They understand how to play and what to do. “
Sherman has played 156 career games, more than Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Winfield combined.
“He came in and we said, ‘We’re all young, we need that leader,'” Whitehead said. “From the [first] tour, he was already teaching, asking us questions and giving us clues. “
Dean added: “I always looked up to him as a kid and always tried to imitate my game after him. Now being able to see it live really helps a lot because I’m more of a visual learner. “
Desir has played 75 career games with 44 starts for seven different teams. He has also seen a lot. Robinson has played in 45 games with 18 starts.
“I mean, it’s nice to have vets there, so they can give us, like, tips and advice, like what to expect and how to watch the movie,” Dean said. “It just shows us the ways. We didn’t have that in our rookie year. So now that we’re getting it done, we have something to build on. “
Arians explained what that means for the team.
“They see how he prepares and what he is looking for and how to study film,” he said. “Young players: the important thing is that they can watch movies, but they have to learn what they want and what they want.” I’m looking, and I think [Sherman] can help them in that regard. “
Tampa Bay held the Patriots and Dolphins to 17 points each over the past two weeks, helping the Bucs (4-1) take sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
“The whole room is different,” Ross said. “The practice team is different. Backups are different. But the standard is no different. That is the key to all this.
“When you get a guy like Sherman to replace some of these guys that we’ve lost, you don’t feel like, ‘Oh my God, it’s over. We cannot do this. We can not do that ‘. You feel like, guess what? It’s going to increase even more now. And when those guys recover and come back, we’ll be better than we were. We will be smarter. We will be tougher. “