Cornerback David Amerson, whom the Redskins drafted in the second round (51st overall) had 13 interceptions to lead the Football Bowl Subdivision as a sophomore in 2011. Last season, however, he admittedly surrendered too many big plays.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan targeted Amerson because of his size, athleticism and play-making prowess. Shanahan believes the errors Amerson made in 2012 won’t be a problem in Washington because of how Redskins coaches will teach him.
Mike Reed, NC State’s defensive backs coach from 2007-12, oversaw Amerson’s three-year career with the Wolfpack. He experienced the charmed 2011 and the downbeat 2012 seasons alongside Amerson. In a phone conversation this week, Reed explained the reasons for the good and the bad, and he ultimately expressed his belief that Amerson will shine in the NFL. Reed is now the defensive backs coach at Clemson.
Q: What are the Redskins getting in David?
MR: “I think people are going to get a very athletic, rangy kid who is very competitive. Still room for him to grow because he’s still young. He technically still has another year to play college ball. I think Raheem Morris is getting a good one. I think it’ll be a good fit as far as coach and player. He’ll learn a lot from Raheem. I know a Raheem from coaching in the A-10 back in the day. I was at Richmond when Raheem was at Hofstra [in 2000-01]. He’s going to be fine. He’s going to come in and compete. He wants to play on a high level. I think that was one of the things he got kind of mixed up in, trying to do to much this year, and it kind of backfired on him.”
Q: When you look at his 2011 season, what were some of the reasons he was able to ball hawk like that and set himself apart from other DBs in the nation?
MR: “It’s athleticism. Did you see the pick that he had in the Virginia game where he runs it back? That one.”
(See the 1:04 mark of this video. For those offended by obscene language, I suggest watching with the sound off.
“You see the one where he’s in the Belk Bowl, and he jumps over the guy from Louisville? “He’s actually playing deep thirds, and they’re running two guys at him, and the quarterback tried to throw it in there, and he jumped over the guy and takes the ball and runs it back for a touchdown.”
(See the 1:19 mark of this video.)
“That’s what you’re getting. You’re getting a very athletic young man, who has great hands, great size. That’s one thing people don’t realize is how tall this young man is when he walks in. He’s long! Arms are long. He’s a former basketball player, so you’re talking about a young man who played basketball above the rim.”
Q: Considering the tradeoff with bigger corners involves fluidity and stiffness, how do you think that relates to David?
MR: “The one question a lot of people had this year going on was how fast he was. Everybody started talking about, ‘Aw, he’s a safety. He can’t run well.’ And he goes to the combine and runs a 4.3. (Amerson’s official 40-yard dash time at the combine was 4.44 seconds.) The talent was always there. You tell him something, and he wants to do it, he’s going to do it. His level of game is going to rise because he’s playing in the NFL. I have no doubt the kid is going to be a great pro.”
Q: David told us on Friday night that in 2012 there were too many plays on which he tried to sit on routes or he had eye discipline problems, things like that. What were your impressions of his 2012 season, and why do you think he gave up as many big plays as he did?
MR: “Exactly. Just what you said. That’s the same thing that came out of my mouth. It was eye discipline. It’s almost like if me and you are running track, OK? You’re in your lane, I’m in my lane. Well, I’m not going to look at you while I’m running straight. I’m looking at my target spot. He didn’t do that. You can’t look at the quarterback and think you’re going to see the receiver because there are going to be sometimes he’s going to be in that blind spot where he’s got to try to get back on him. Change his eyes and get back on the receiver, and he got beat for touchdowns.
“He tried to do too much. It was great having 13 picks. The downfall of that was he came back the next year and thought he was going to get 13 picks again, and it didn’t happen. The things that he did the year before were things that he didn’t do last year. Not a knock against him. But he just felt like he had to make every play. Sometimes trying to make the play and not playing with in the scheme of the defense cost him.”
Q: How much did you guys talk to him about that last year and try to get him to make the adjustment?
MR: “I mean, you try to and you try to, but there’s one entity you can’t defeat: agent runners. You know what I mean? You can’t defeat them. I can’t watch what he does all day and night. I’m sure those guys were beating down their door. They were calling him on the phone. I mean, hey, he’s a young kid. He’s impressionable. People are telling him he’s the No. 5 cornerback in the country. You’ve got a pressure going right now. And, hey, he didn’t handle it the correct way. Now he’s a pro. He’s going to have learn this is what I need to do to be a professional. It’s one of those things where sometimes it takes some good and some bad to bring out the good.”
Q: Well he mentioned his need to get back to fundamentals. Did you see that type of attitude from him and a willingness to be coached?
MR: “He’s very coachable. That wasn’t the problem. He was just trying to do too much, and you can’t do that. As a defensive back, you’ve got to take a calculated risk. You can’t just jump in and say, ‘I’m risking. Bam!’ It has got to be calculated. It has got to be: ‘I see this, and I see this. This means this, so let me play it.’ Once he gets back to doing the things that he knows he’s supposed to be doing, he’ll be fine. Coach Morris will do a great job coaching him. He’ll be a playmaker for you guys. Those teams that picked those corners before him, they’ll be upset they didn’t pick David.”
Q: Considering his skill set and how he likes to play with vision, what do you think is the best way to use him? He obviously played a lot of off man last year.
MR: “My thing is he can do both. David loved to play off because it allowed him to be able to see a lot more. When you play press, it’s only just you and the receiver. That’s it. You’re not playing the ball; you’re playing the receiver first. When you’re playing off and you’re playing the coverage, it allows you be able to look at a 3-step drop by a quarterback. It allows to you see the receiver in a different light.
“He’ll do fine in anything that he’s asked. He answered a lot of people’s questions about his speed. Have you see the guy in person? Once you see him in person and you see how long his arms are (measured 32 5/8 inches at the combine), then you’ll say, ‘OK, he can play press.’ He’s a freak of nature kid when you look at him. He’s about 6-2, a little shy, maybe, under 6-3 (Amerson measured 6-1 at the combine in February), with long arms. He’s long.
Q: Did you all have him play press often or did a play a lot of ‘off’ man?
MR: “My thing was to allow him to do what he felt comfortable, and he felt comfortable because he wanted to make interceptions by playing off. It was one of those things where if a kid has had that much success playing off, I’m not going to force him to play press. Hey, be comfortable. Play what you do. Do what you do. I’m one of those guys, hey, I’ll coach you hard Monday through Friday, and Saturday is your time.”
Q: What about him as a tackler?
MR: “He is a sound tackler. He could be a safety. When he first got to NC State, everybody that recruited him recruited him to play safety. Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Clemson. Everybody was putting him at safety. I saw the kid coming out of high school—he’s playing corner. He’s very physical. The Cincinnati game, definitely, when he knocked a guy out. He can hit. That’s not a question. He’s fine.”
(I couldn’t find video of a hit against Cincinnati on which Amerson knocked a player out, but Amerson’s highlight reel below contains several highlight-worthy hits. This is the same video with obscene language from above.)
This video shows Amerson making some tackles and missing others:
Q: How quickly do you think he can pick up the scheme at the NFL level?
MR: “I don’t think it’s going to be a big hurdle for him. Once he learns the terminology—because that’s all it is. We all do the same thing. Everybody has got techniques and things we do different, but for the most part quarters is quarters, [Cover-] 3 is 3, 2 is 2, 0 is 0 and 1 is 1. There are different techniques that are involved that he’ll have to learn, and he’ll from there. I don’t think it will be a big process. It took him four games as a true freshman to start in college and playing at a different position? I don’t think it will be that long. His true freshman year, it took him four games.”