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Persons of Interest: Sherman vs. Thomas

Richard Sherman’s physical style has helped him become one of the league’s best cornerbacks. (AP)

By Danny O’Neil

NEW YORK – Taking a closer look at one of the key matchups in Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle’s Richard Sherman vs. Denver’s Demaryius Thomas:

Richard Sherman’s vitals

• Position: Lockdown corner, lightning rod
• Height: 6-3
• Weight: 195
• Age: 25
• Experience: Third season

The storyline

It wasn’t exactly a premonition that general manager John Schneider made while watching the Seahawks practice during his first year with the team, it was more like a prediction: Wait until we get some big corners in here.

A year later, Seattle drafted Sherman in the fifth round. It took a pair of injuries – first to Marcus Trufant and then Walter Thurmond – to land Sherman in the starting lineup in Week 8 of his rookie year, and all he has done since then is intercept 20 passes in the regular season. That’s the most of any player in the league.

It’s not just the production, though, but the style of play. He is a press corner, someone who will get up on the line, who will grab and fight. And his speed is better than many would expect for someone so lanky.

Somehow, that coverage ability that has made him one of the league’s best cornerbacks – or the best if you ask him – has been obscured by the media scrutiny of his postgame comments. The reason he is one of the pillars of the Seahawks is not because of his propensity to stir up controversy but because of the way he fits Seattle’s defense.

Lobbing a pass down the sideline to a receiver Sherman is covering is the equivalent of a punt. Just ask Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree.

The statement

While Sherman picked a very public fight with Crabtree following Seattle’s victory in the NFC Championship Game, he considers the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas a friend as they met in the offseason and even trained together at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon. They are two players at the top of the pecking order in terms of their positions, which makes for a matchup everyone will be watching for.

Question: Is Sherman the most physical defensive back in the league?

Thomas: “I think I’ve faced more physical, but he is physical. He’ll switch it up. He doesn’t always try to be physical because he doesn’t have to. He’ll switch up stuff. That’s why I feel like he’s one of the best at what he does.”

Question: What makes Sherman so good?

Thomas: “I have no idea. I notice he is – most of the time – in the right spot. I’m sure he studies a lot and, of course, he’s talented. I don’t know if it’s thinking, and I don’t know if it’s talent, but he’s always around the ball.”

Question: Are you looking forward to a matchup against Sherman?

Thomas: “I don’t even know if there’s going to be a matchup. I’m looking forward to playing the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.”

“He’s a combination that I think only a couple guys have in this league of pure strength, size and speed,” Richard Sherman said of Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas. (AP)

Demaryius Thomas’ vitals

• Position: Wide receiver/physical Adonis
• Height: 6-3
• Weight: 229
• Age: 26
• Experience: Fourth season

The storyline

His physical specs are ideal, a combination of size and speed that often merit a top-10 selection in the draft. He went No. 22 overall because he played in a triple-option rushing offense during his three seasons at Georgia Tech.

His game-changing speed was on display his second season when he ran away from Pittsburgh’s defense for a game-winning touchdown in overtime of their 2011 wildcard game. He has blossomed in quarterback Peyton Manning’s two seasons with the Broncos.

There are only three players who have amassed more than 1,400 yards receiving in each of the past two seasons: Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Thomas. Thomas’ 14 touchdown catches were the most of any wide receiver in the league this season.

Seattle is one of the few secondaries in the league that won’t be overpowered by Thomas’ size. Then again, Thomas is one of the few receivers in the league strong enough to go toe-to-toe against the Seahawks’ physical coverage tendencies.

The statement

Mediocre is not a word that Sherman used when asked about Thomas’ ability.

Sherman: “I definitely think he’s in the top five. He has put together a heck of a year and done everything in his power to put himself in that conversation. He has made the big catches. He has made a lot of runs after the catch and turned small plays into huge plays. I think that he’s a great receiver, and he’s a great competitor. It’s going to be a fun matchup between both of us.”

Question: Everyone can see what makes Demaryius Thomas such an effective receiver. As someone who prepares for him, studies him, what are some of the maybe less obvious things that make him so dangerous?

Sherman: “He’s really fast. He’s deceptively fast, I think a lot of people would say. But he’s really fast and he’s really strong and he’s a combination that I think only a couple guys have in this league of pure strength, size and speed. That makes him really dangerous. That makes him tough.”