Richard Sherman has been missing in action for the 49ers ever since their Week 1 matchup with the Cardinals.
Sherman sustained a calf injury in the game that saw him get placed on the Injured Reserve list. Week 12 against the Rams is most likely going to be Sherman's debut game after nursing his injury.
However, Sherman's return actually presents a troubling situation for the 49ers.
Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley have performed at a high-level with Sherman out. Both of these players have anchored the outside cornerback positions admirably. Yanking one of these players as the starter could be detrimental to the success the 49ers are having in pass coverage.
If he is able to, what should Sherman's role be in his return?
The 49ers should bring Sherman along slowly and use him only sparingly. That means in obvious passing situations. His calf injury put him on the shelf for a significant amount of time. The 49ers won't admit it or Sherman, but that calf injury is the same leg he suffered a torn Achilles. There has to be something to that because a calf injury doesn't just keep a player out for this long.
Kyle Shanahan himself knows that as he is being careful with how they handle Sherman's return.
“If Sherm’s back there and back to himself fully a hundred percent, we'll get him out there fully," said Shanahan at his presser on Wednesday. "I'm glad we got him in a week before the break we had here, just so we could get him acclimated a little bit. Didn't get to see him at all on the week off, so we're going to get out here in a little bit in the next hour and practice, and we'll see how this week goes.
"When Sherm’s ready to go, he'll be back to his spot, but in a no hurry to do that. We’ve got number of guys who have been playing well while he’s been out and we don't mind easing him back in either. That'll be decided how he looks in practice these next three days.”
Given the luck the 49ers have had this season, the last thing they want to do is roll him out there in his usual role on defense. A full plate in his return to the field is not a recipe for Sherman's longevity for the season.
Plus, let Sherman prove his ability again. I am not saying he isn't talented, but the 49ers have to be sure that when they give him the starting position back that it will not hurt the blanket coverage defense they have developed this season.
With Sherman out, the 49ers are able to dial up a lot more man-coverage and blitzes. If he returns to the defense at full capacity, then they cannot use man-coverage as often. Zone-blitzes will have to be what Robert Saleh calls as well, which aren't as effective.
Not to mention that the 49ers will have to decided which cornerback they pull between Verrett and Moseley.
Before doing that, the 49ers need to see what Sherman can do on a limited snap count. Bring him along slowly to test his health and coverage, then decide from there.