A year ago, Richard Sherman was a statue in the Seattle Seahawks’ defense. He lined up on the left side of the field, every snap. He never moved, no matter which Green Bay Packers receiver lined up across from him.
Sherman, one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, had a more versatile role in the Seahawks’ opening-game loss at the St. Louis Rams. He lined up at left cornerback on about 60 percent of his snaps, far less than usual. When he wasn’t on the left side of the field, Sherman often played the slot.
One week before the Seahawks travel to Lambeau Field to play the Packers, the timing of Sherman’s move was notable. Packers receiver Randall Cobb, the league’s highest-paid slot receiver, might get matched up against Sherman consistently Sunday night.
“That could be a possibility,” Cobb said. “That’s what they showed in the first week. That was really the first time that you’ve seen him there. A little bit in the Super Bowl game last year, but it is a little bit of a difference for him.”
While Sherman developed a reputation for never moving from one side of the field to another — same as Packers’ top cornerback Sam Shields — that hasn’t been the only way the Seahawks have used him. Still, the overwhelming majority of his snaps have come from one spot.
The Packers tried to use that to their advantage during last season’s opener, consistently lining up secondary receiver Jarrett Boykin against Sherman and star receiver Jordy Nelson on the opposite side of the field. Sherman never moved over to cover Nelson, no matter how many times Boykin lined up against him.
Now, the Packers won’t have Nelson. His season ended with a torn ACL during the preseason. In his absence, Cobb is the Packers’ top receiver target. That could encourage the Seahawks to move Sherman into the slot even more Sunday.
“Richard can do it all,” Rodgers said. “He's a talented guy. Doesn't matter. You know a lot of times, slot guys are kind of smaller in stature. Richard, he's kind of a different animal. He can do it all. Outside or inside, he's got great ball skills, intelligent, understands route concepts really well. You've got to figure out where he's at every play.”
Cobb said Sherman is “still the same player” when he covers slot receivers. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he uses his length and strength to control leverage against receivers at the line of scrimmage. Sherman has to patrol more field space in the slot, but his move inside doesn’t change the Seahawks’ style of defense.
“They’re going to play man (coverage),” Cobb said. “They’re going to play Cover 3 that they always splay. You just have to be prepared for those things and work off his technique.”
If Cobb faces Sherman on Sunday, he’ll probably have to beat him without being at full health.
Cobb said his sprained right shoulder feels “one week better” than it did entering the team’s opener in Chicago, but it’s still sore. He wouldn’t say how close his shoulder feels to being healthy, or whether it limits him on the field.
Of course, it didn’t prevent him from scoring a touchdown against the Bears last week.
“He’s battling through injuries,” receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “He’s tough as nails. He just has to take care of them during the week and make sure he gets to game day, and he’s in the best place on game day. That’s the biggest challenge. Game day takes care of itself, adrenaline and everything that comes with that.
“I thought he performed well in Chicago. That’s a tough deal. He’ll get better every week. He’ll heal every week.”