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Football 101 – Out on an Island

Seahawks rookie cornerback Richard Sherman is preparing for his first NFL start this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

For the past 3 years, I’ve helped the Seahawks put on a Football 101 workshop for the Seahawks Women’s Association to help fund breast cancer awareness. Usually the crowd is between 125-150 people every year, and about 99-percent women who are like sponges waiting to soak up every bit of information you can give them!

My part is to teach the fundamentals of defense and explain some terminology, and maybe even send some of them home with some fancy terminology to impress their husbands and boyfriends with. I gotta tell you it’s a lot of pressure because every year I get some of the most challenging questions you’ve ever heard like, “Why are there four downs?” I can explain the nuances of cover 2, but I can’t answer that one!

When I put the film up on the screen, one of the first things I talk about is the layout of the field. The hash marks on an NFL field are much closer together than they are in college, and for a cornerback like rookie Richard Sherman who lives out there, that’s a big change from the college game. As Sherman will tell you, “There is no short side in this game.”

At any level in football, the ball is always spotted either on the hashes or somewhere between them. Any play that is downed on the outside of the field comes back to the nearest hash.

What’s different about the pro game is that the hash marks are about six yards apart, whereas the college hashes are over 18-yards apart. In other words, the ball is always pretty much in the middle of the field.

What that means for an NFL cornerback is that you’re all alone out there. Those guys like me that played in “the box” (tackle-to-tackle) have no idea how lonely it is out on that island and that’s why cornerback is such a difficult position to play – especially when you’re a rookie.

Adding more pressure to the position is the fact that you’re covering, or trying to cover, some of the finest athletes in the world. They’re usually guys that are between 6′ 2″ and 6′ 6″, run a four-point-nothing forty and can jump three-and-a-half feet in the air and have nicknames like “Mega-Tron” (Calvin Johnson-Detroit Lions).

This weekend Sherman will see Cincinnati Bengals wide-out A.J. Green who is a 6′ 4″ touchdown machine out of Georgia, and leads the Bengals in scoring.

So, with all of that laid out there, why would you want to play cornerback in the NFL? Well, let’s start with the money.

Just as in any supply and demand situation, rarity means cash. Another thing I point out in my Football 101 seminar is that those who play out on the perimeter, get all the money.

With the exception of quarterback, who plays all over the field, the highest paid players are out there on that edge. Corners are paid more than safeties. Defensive ends are paid more than defensive tackles. Offensive tackles are paid more than offensive guards and centers. Outside linebackers are paid more than inside backers, etc.

Corners are typically one of the three highest paid positions on any football team along with quarterbacks and receivers.

Rookie Richard Sherman is happy to feel that pressure. The fifth-rounder out of Stanford will be making his first start this Sunday and will find out first-hand what that pressure is all about. Even though Sherman is a rookie, he’ll have one advantage.

Up until 2009, Sherman played receiver making that transition from offense to defense during spring workouts. He knows his enemy.

I like what I heard from Sherman when Bob Stelton and I interviewed him on the Huddle yesterday. Am I biased because he’s a Stanford guy? Of course! But you gotta like some of the things he said.