The receiver appears open, and the quarterback fires a pass to the end zone, anticipating a sure touchdown.
But it’s a trap.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, almost five yards off the receiver, sprints forward and intercepts the throw.
This has happened more than once. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick experienced it trying to connect with Randy Moss in the end zone Dec. 23. So did Mark Sanchez when the New York Jets came to Seattle on Nov. 11.
Sherman, in his first full season as a starter, drove opposing quarterbacks and receivers mad by swatting away passes (team-high 24 passes defended), picking them off (team-high eight interceptions) and coming up with big plays (three forced fumbles and a touchdown off a blocked field goal).
“I think he has the chance to be one of the best players to ever play that position,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said of Sherman, a 2012 first-team All-Pro pick. “It’s just fun watching him out there locked in and dominating week in, every day, day in and day out.”
Sherman’s play earned plenty of headlines in 2012. So did his personality, as Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the league’s most “voluble” player.
Sherman exchanged pleasantries with Darrelle Revis on Twitter; mentioned he doesn’t talk to his former college coach, Jim Harbaugh; asked if Tom Brady was mad; told ESPN’s Skip Bayless he was superior to him at life; and briefly changed his Twitter name to Optimus Prime before facing Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.
Thinking that Sherman is just a verbose character is also a trap.
Many of his teammates praise Sherman for his dedication to the film room, studying the details of each play and how he can use that for what he sees on the field.
Thomas said Sherman’s preparation allows him to play cornerback like a safety. He said Sherman’s understanding of opposing offenses allows him to alert the linebackers or safeties when he sees something coming that they don’t.
“There are a lot of little details to the game that a lot of people don’t notice,” Sherman said. “Obviously, you work on your conditioning, your strength and your body, but there are little details that you can see on film to improve your game.”
Cornerback Will Blackmon came to the Seahawks in the offseason after six seasons with the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. He said Sherman is already — just 32 regular-season games into his career — one of the best in the league.
“Sherm has definitely taken over (the league). He is the elite cornerback right now,” said Blackmon, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after Seattle released him Aug. 27. “Even when he first came out, I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’
“He is extremely smart and a true student, and this is what happens when you combine an athlete who works hard and is a student of the game. I got to watch that playing with Charles Woodson (NFL defensive player of the year in 2009), and that’s where Sherm is on his way to right now.”
What makes Sherman elite goes beyond his closing speed or 6-foot-3 frame. Sherman plays with an edge, partially stemming from having to wait until the fifth round of the 2011 draft for a team to pick him.
It also helps that he wants to prove something every day. Many of his teammates play with that same chip-on-their-shoulder attitude, whether it’s Thomas or Russell Wilson for being too short, Kam Chancellor for being too big, or Brandon Browner or Doug Baldwin going undrafted.
“Guys take that chip and they play hard on the field to counter that vision people have of them, that lack of respect,” Sherman said. “I think that’s why we have a team full of guys that play like that — a team full of guys that are angry.”
Said Thomas: “We have guys in this group who have something to prove, guys who want to be the best ever. They want to leave something bigger than just Seahawks football. They want to leave a legacy throughout the entire National Football League.”
During a training camp practice, Wilson threw a deep pass with Sherman running stride for stride with intended receiver Jermaine Kearse, who is 2 inches shorter than Sherman. Kearse looked up, so Sherman turned his head, never breaking stride, and swatted the ball to the ground with his left hand.
“He steps on the field, and nobody is really catching passes,” Thomas said.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he doesn’t see why Sherman won’t continue to build off what he accomplished last year.
“He’s prepared, he’s done it in practice every day and he’s just doing everything that he needs to do to position himself to do that again,” Carroll said.
“It’s one thing to have a good year, but it’s coming back. That is something that we really cherish. He’s up against that now, and he’s done all of the right things to get that done.”