For Richard Sherman and his dad, FaceTime meant QualityTime.
As the star cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers rehabilitated his reconnected Achilles tendon, he kept an early-morning ritual of working out with his father, Kevin, to get back up to speed.
That meant spanning a distance of roughly 375 miles, from Kevin’s home in Yorba Linda to Richard’s in the Bay Area, but on the Information Superhighway, who’s counting?
“I have a treadmill, so I ran with him in the morning,” the elder Sherman said. “I did my little leg workout that I do in the morning, and I just kind of kept with him the whole way. It was kind of fun for me. Little FaceTiming, little videos here and there, just showing him that, ‘Hey , I’m going to work hard too. We’re going to get through this.’ Just a little bit of encouragement.”
And as the 49ers head into the weekend as the NFC’s only undefeated team (4-0), with Sherman the elder statesman of the top-ranked defense in the conference, it’s clear that every little bit of encouragement helps.
“It was awesome, man,” Richard Sherman said of the daily calls at 6 a.m. “Great bonding time for me and my dad.”
Clearly, the 49ers have congealed as a defense as well. They had a horrendous 2018 season, setting NFL futility records with just two interceptions and seven takeaways. By comparison, the Baltimore Colts set the previous low with 11 takeaways — and that came in the strike-shortened 1982 season.
Last season was Sherman’s first with San Francisco after a stellar seven seasons in Seattle, where he led the league in interceptions with 32 since he was drafted in 2011. It’s almost inconceivable that the 49ers could go the entire season with just two interceptions, and neither by cornerbacks.
“Honestly, it was just a lack of opportunities,” said Sherman, whose team finished 4-12. “The ball didn’t bounce our way. It wasn’t like guys were taking crazy shots. Some of our guys dropped a few, but I just didn’t have a shot at any.”
Sherman said he was targeted less frequently last season than at any other time in his career.
“I don’t get frustrated anymore,” he said. “When I was younger, I would get frustrated because guys would say, ‘Oh, you don’t have stats.’ I was like, some of these guys are getting targeted 100 times a year. I’m getting targeted 40, 35 on the entire year. You just try to make the plays when they’re there and try to help your team in other ways when you can.”
So far this season has been a statistical U-turn. Through four games — whereas most of the league has played five — this year’s 49ers already have 11 takeaways, seven of them interceptions. Sherman has two of those, with a pick-six in the opener against Tampa Bay, and a Monday night plucking of Baker Mayfield on the first play of Cleveland’s second drive.
At 31, the seasoned Sherman almost has become an extension of the 49ers coaching staff.
“I think anytime you have very good players that have been playing for a while it’s because they are definitely very talented, but it’s also because of what’s upstairs,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I mean, they know a lot of football, they’ve seen a lot of football, they’re smart, they know pass patterns, their recollection of plays they’ve been beat on is very well. I think Sherm is at the top of that aspect of that part of the game.”
The Rams, who play host to the 49ers on Sunday in a pivotal NFC West showdown, are acutely aware of the havoc Sherman can wreak.
“He’s just so smart and you can tell the way he reads patterns and understands offense and understands how we’re trying to attack a defense,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “Makes it tough on us.”
The Rams and 49ers will square off at the Coliseum, not too far from where Kevin and Beverly Sherman raised children Branton, Richard, and Kristyna in Compton.
Kevin Sherman retired five years ago after working for the Los Angeles sanitation department, where he drove a garbage truck. Beverly spent her career working with disabled inner-city children.
Richard had a 4.2 grade-point average at Dominguez High in Compton, played at Stanford as a receiver then defensive back, and then rose to prominence with the Seattle Seahawks, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.
In seven years with the Seahawks, Sherman made four Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro selection three times. A cornerstone of the “Legion of Boom” secondary, he led the NFL in a slew of categories since turning pro, including passes knocked down (99), and completion percentage allowed (47.4).
He also was as bombastic as a carnival barker, and backed it up with his play. He famously tweeted “u mad bro?” to Tom Brady after a landmark victory over the New England Patriots in Seattle. And, after making the game-saving deflection to beat San Francisco in early 2014 and send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, he screamed on national TV about being the best corner in the league and chided the 49ers for daring to test him with a “sorry” receiver in Michael Crabtree.
Make no mistake, Sherman still speaks his mind. And this week, it cost him. After the 49ers beat Cleveland, 31-3, Sherman told NFL.com’s Michael Silver that Mayfield refused to shake his hand during the pregame coin flip. After video showed that Sherman and Mayfield in fact did shake hands, Sherman apologized.
“It’s definitely my bad,” Sherman said on the Pat McAfee Show. “I never want anybody to have to deal with some stuff that they didn’t do. And so, you know, the questions that he’s gonna get and the annoying, nonsense questions about some stuff that happened in a game that’s already been done, you know, sure he’ll get an apology for that. I’ll probably reach out to him via text or social media to actually get a hold of him and talk to him ... on the phone.
“He definitely deserves an apology, and that’s my bad on that.”
Without question, Sherman has grown as a person and player over the course of his career.
“I don’t know if I’ve mellowed, but my kids have definitely given me more patience than I had previously,” said the father of a son and daughter, ages 4 and 3. “That’s a big change. … As a player, it’s just being more understanding of how I can affect situations by my approach or attitude.”
At the moment, that’s working for the 49ers. And Sherman, playing a position where it’s nearly impossible to age gracefully, is finding a way.
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.