- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Gold, sweatpants and tattoos are the visually expressive things about Washington Redskins cornerback Chris Culliver. He wears multiple gold chains. The sweatpants, gray and puffing out from beneath a jersey or pulled up from the ankle to the knee, complete his daily appearance. Every day, walks with his tattoos from wrist to shoulder telling his tale.

He chose his mother’s name, Marie, as his first tattoo when he was 16 years old, mirroring her age when he was born.

His stepfather, James Jefferson, was murdered when he was 8. He was shot on Labor Day weekend in 1996 at Jay’s Big Shot bar in Philadelphia. His cousin was also killed in the same fracas. A bullet grazed his mother’s chest. A tattoo on his neck memorializes his slain stepfather.

He doesn’t want to talk about that, though. Not his mom or his family. The tattooed map of his 27 years that spreads across both arms, his chest and back and even in front of his right ear provide hints of the careening nature of his life. He’d rather leave that and talk about football, focusing on why the Redskins paid him a hefty sum to help shore up a wobbly secondary.

Culliver signed a four-year, $32 million deal with the Redskins in the offseason. General manager Scot McCloughan said he had liked Culliver since the cornerback left South Carolina in 2011, when the San Francisco 49ers selected him in the third round. His three seasons in the league may be unlike anyone else in that draft class.

His first two seasons, Culliver played in the NFC title game. In his second season, Culliver was the nickel cornerback for a powerful 49ers defense in the Super Bowl. His time at the Super Bowl was an extreme learning experience. Negative comments he made about possibly having a gay teammate preceded an apology and reversal in stance two days later. During the game, he allowed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Though, that Culliver was in the position of influencing the Super Bowl as a second-year player was of note.

“There’s a lot that goes on in the Super Bowl,” Culliver said. “It’s a big, big stage. If anybody going to watch any game of the year, they’re going to watch the Super Bowl. … It wasn’t like I was 30 years old in my seventh or ninth year or something like that. You learn and you grow as a player, a person, in general. You’ve got a rookie that come in wouldn’t understand the same thing a fifth-year vet would. I think just experience and growing as a person, that’s the biggest thing.”

He tore the ACL in his left knee and missed the 2013 season. In 2014, when the 49ers began to unravel, Culliver had his best season, producing career-high totals in tackles and interceptions. He was considered one of the best cornerbacks available through free agency after last season. It’s easy for McCloughan to tick off what he likes about Culliver on the field.

“He has size, he has strength, he has toughness, he has competitiveness and he understands the importance of the game,” McCloughan said. “He comes from a really, really good defense. Been to the Super Bowl. Seen what it looks like. Understands how to practice. Understands what to take care of in the weight room and the tape room. All that stuff, he understands, he’s been around it.”

Culliver felt like Washington matched him personally. He said in OTAs that he liked the defensive scheme, was interested in learning from new defensive backs coach Perry Fewell and was excited play alongside DeAngelo Hall, Jeron Johnson and ex-teammate Dashon Goldson.

“I chose here because I felt like it fit my personality,” Culliver said. “My personality’s being physical and playing a lot of man coverage and getting to it and helping this team. That’s what my mindset was.”

Like many current cornerbacks, Culliver prefers playing press coverage. He tries to reroute receivers from the line, using his strength as much as the current rules allow. He said he lets receivers run their routes, then reacts to what he sees. In an ideal world, Culliver is a blend of physical play and consistent coverage. He’s 6 feet tall and 199 pounds, not the oversized cornerback that is in vogue in the NFL, but also not a small corner who can easily be bullied. He should have a chance against fade routes, as well as one against shiftier route runners.

Culliver’s presence gives the Redskins a strong starting point at cornerback. Second-year cornerback Bashaud Breeland will return during Week 2 of the regular season after serving a one-game suspension stemming from a citation for possession of marijuana in Richmond in 2014. Hall is near the end of his career. Third-year corner David Amerson took a large step back in his second season. Quickly, the cornerback room could be Culliver’s to run.

Hall has talked about retirement. Breeland is just starting what the Redskins hope is an extended career, which leaves Culliver as a proposed anchor among the team’s cornerbacks. He has the most playoff experience of any Redskins cornerback, including Hall. He’s also the highest-paid cornerback on the team. The Redskins are relying on Culliver to be a support point at one of the league’s most crucial positions.

“He’s good for the young guys, and he’s 27,” McCloughan said. “I think he’s reaching his prime right now and he’s ready to rock and roll.”

His ferocity showed in the preseason when he was ejected during the second exhibition game for getting into a fight with Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith. It also showed in March 2014, when he was charged with a felony — reduced to a misdemeanor following a hearing nearly a year later — after hitting a bicyclist, fleeing the scene, then allegedly threatening a citizen who followed and cornered his car. He pled guilty to two misdemeanors in June and will be on probation for two years and was ordered to do 40 hours of community service.

“[I told him] this is how we’re going to be, and if you’re not going to be that way, then you’re not going be here,” McCloughan said.

Last year, Culliver was back at the tattoo parlor. Just in front of his right ear, in the slim vertical space behind a narrow sideburn, the word “king” is sunk vertically, in capital letters, into his skin.

The Redskins crowned him with a four-year deal worth up to $32 million in the offseason. Each is trying to revamp their recent past, believing the best is ahead.

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