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Only shaky thing about Richard Sherman’s debut? ‘Jell-O’ legs down the stretch

The 33-year-old All-Pro played 58 of 59 defensive snaps four days after signing with the Bucs.
Four days after signing a one-year deal with the Bucs, 33-year-old cornerback Richard Sherman (5) played 58 of a possible 59 defensive snaps in Sunday night's 19-17 win at New England.
Four days after signing a one-year deal with the Bucs, 33-year-old cornerback Richard Sherman (5) played 58 of a possible 59 defensive snaps in Sunday night's 19-17 win at New England. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 6
Updated Oct. 7

TAMPA — For a cornerback who has spent his career flourishing on a figurative island, Richard Sherman questioned his sea legs.

In terms of live game action, the 33-year-old All-Pro wasn’t supposed to even dip a toe in the water for the Bucs until this weekend’s game against the Dolphins at the earliest. But circumstances can turn on a dime in the frenetic world of the NFL.

As the Bucs’ injury count increased, so did Sherman’s odds of playing significantly against the Patriots on Sunday night after signing Wednesday.

When fellow cornerback Carlton Davis exited the game with a quad injury late in the first half, significantly segued to constantly.

“Once they told me I was going to play the whole game, then I started getting into energy-conservation mode throughout the game,” said Sherman, who logged 58 of the Bucs’ 59 defensive snaps.

“You hate to say you saved some for the swim back, but it was like, you don’t have a choice at that point, because I don’t know exactly what I have for the rest of the game. … And even still then in the fourth quarter, my legs were like Jell-O, but you’ve just got to soldier through and do what you can to help the team.”

With that improbable, indefatigable effort in the Bucs’ 19-17 triumph, a five-day odyssey concluded for Sherman, who arrived in Tampa on Tuesday.

“I know from recent history of watching ‘Sherm’ that he’s a ballplayer,” said outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who played five fewer snaps than Sherman.

“So him being out there just instantly makes our team better, and him to come out there and play, perform … 58 out of 59 snaps, it’s crazy. And the way he held it down, it was amazing.”

A Stanford graduate, Sherman said the days leading to his debut as a Buc included some collegiate-style cramming, a steady stream of questions, and patience from peers and coaches who took time to explain signals and concepts they might have deemed rudimentary.

Sherman even confessed to having one eye on film study during his evening FaceTime calls to his wife and kids.

During the game, teammates consistently barked out play checks to Sherman in case he wasn’t up to speed.

“(Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) has a lot of variety in his packages and what he likes out of his corners,” Sherman said.

“It took a lot of hours of just going back and forth, and a lot of questions that may have been dumb for other guys to ask, but I didn’t know.”

The result: seven tackles (tied for the team high), a fumble recovery, one pass-interference whistle and minimal exploitation in single coverage.

Coach Bruce Arians said he thought Sherman played “really, really well.”

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“I think anytime you’re able to come into a brand-new situation and a brand-new team and step in that week and contribute, and not even just contribute but to play the way (Sherman) was able to play the entire game, I think it was very impressive,” receiver Chris Godwin said.

“But I think when you look at his career, I don’t know if anybody was really surprised by that. He’s such a cerebral player, and I think that really showed.”

Not to Sherman, who remained his own harshest critic Wednesday.

“The coaches were giving me credit in the meetings. They’re like, ‘Man, it’s a tough spot to be in, and we understand,’ " he said. “But to me, you’ve got a standard that you’re used to playing at, and I didn’t play up to my standard. So regardless of circumstances, I was frustrated when I watched the tape.

“There were some plays where I could physically see myself, I’m making the right movements, I’m making the right steps, I’m putting myself in the best position, my legs just weren’t there, and I can understand that.”

His sea legs can’t return soon enough for him and the Bucs.

On Wednesday, Arians said he didn’t expect either of his season-opening starting cornerbacks, Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting (dislocated elbow), to return to action soon.

Moreover, Stephon Gilmore, an All-Pro cornerback briefly on the market, was acquired Wednesday by the Panthers from the Patriots via trade.

With no reinforcements arriving right away for the Bucs, Sherman must keep processing — and performing — on the fly.

“It will be a lot faster, a lot better and a lot more crisp this week with a full week of practice,” he said.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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