GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers grinned and tipped his cap to Richard Sherman earlier this week for reaching contract incentives the San Francisco 49ers cornerback worked into his deal when acting as his own agent. The 31-year-old corner made the Pro Bowl after making three interceptions and breaking up 11 passes in 15 games this season, and he had another pick in the 49ers’ divisional round victory over Minnesota.
“He’s a talented player,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback said. “In my opinion, never lost it. There was never a time where you were playing him where you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to go after this guy.’ I always think you have to be smart about what routes you like to throw on him and understand that he’s one of the headiest players that has ever played that position. So you’ve got to be real smart about the types of routes you like on that (right) side of the field.”
The question surrounding the ninth-year corner this week is whether San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will elect to break from tendency and have Sherman shadow Packers wide receiver Davante Adams.
“Not to get too much into schematics, but we have a philosophy on how we operate around here, and that doesn't mean we don't look at every possible avenue, but I'll stay away from that one” Saleh said Thursday. “I'm sorry.”
For his part, Sherman insists he doesn’t care where he’s at. He noted he has followed receivers such as Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green around the field in the past when he played in Seattle, but he’s not campaigning for a one-on-one situation with Adams if the defense doesn’t call for it. In fact, Sherman took offense to the idea that the 49ers would even need him to do it after finishing the regular season as the No. 1 pass defense in the league and after limiting the Vikings to 172 passing yards and one score.
“I don't just go rogue, like hey, this is their guy, I'm going to do it this week,” Sherman said Thursday. “It doesn't make a difference to me; know what I mean? Like I said, we've had the No. 1 pass defense in this league, and we haven't done it. Until you start telling me that a great left tackle is following pass rushers wherever they go, oh, my God, (Minnesota defensive end Everson) Griffen is lined up over the guard, tell (49ers left tackle) Joe (Staley) to go in there and block him. Oh, my God, he's lined up over the right; tell Joe to go to the right.
“Until that starts happening, miss me with it.”
Billy Turner got in some spins on a stationary bike and did some lower-body-specific stretches off to the side when the entire Packers roster lined up across the field in the Don Hutson Center for stretches Friday, but once individual work began, the starting right guard joined in the drills. So on the eve of departure for the NFC championship game, every member of the 52-man active roster began the day participating to some degree.
“It definitely helps,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said after the final practice of the week. “You’re able to get the reps out there on the practice field that you’re going to get in the game. And, you know, I think our guys have done a great job of taking care of their bodies and they’re dialed in, ready to go.”
Turner, who injured an ankle in Detroit on Dec. 29, had returned to full practice on Thursday along with right tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness), giving the Packers back-to-back days of work with their starting offensive line intact.
The only player on the Packers' final injury report Friday was fullback Danny Vitale, listed as questionable with a knee injury. The 49ers had no one on their injury report.
Safety Raven Greene hit the two-week mark since returning to practice after an ankle injury in Week 2 that required surgery. He remains on injured reserve, though the team could bring him back to the active roster before leaving for the West Coast.
The top-seeded hosts have been similarly healthy, with all 53 of the 49ers practicing on Thursday.
Ervin on deck for bigger impact
Tyler Ervin has only been on the field for 31 offensive snaps in three weeks for the Packers, but he has brought an element to the offense that had been lacking outside of a handful of players: “He’s got juice, now,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said.
“You see it, when he gets out in open space, just even on the kickoff returns, all those different aspects of the game,” Hackett continued. “But he’s definitely a guy when he has the ball in his hands, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Before coming to Green Bay, Ervin played a total of 190 offensive snaps (16 catches, 102 yards; 5 rushes, 15 yards) from 2016-18 in Houston and only four with Jacksonville this season before being released.
Brought in to solidify the kick and punt return game at the start of December, Ervin’s first appearance on offense in Minnesota at the end of the month helped set up a touchdown for Aaron Jones. But now Ervin’s presence may prove more important than that of a batting practice pitcher — he may be in position to hit a home run in the NFC championship game. LaFleur noted Ervin’s versatility off his previous film in Houston and Jacksonville, but his role has blossomed due to the work done in practice.
“You start expanding that role,” LaFleur said. “He’s a unique talent because he has some of that same versatility as Aaron Jones has. We’ll continue to try to mix him in within our offensive scheme.”