Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman moved in motion to his left, preparing to strike the way he always often does in coach Andy Reid’s offense.
On Sunday, in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 26-17 win over the Tennessee Titans, and with his team trailing by four and facing first down at the Titans’ 1, Sherman knew all eyes would be on his backfield mate, Jamaal Charles.
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But Sherman also knew that if he didn’t do his job on the play — kick out on safety Michael Griffin — Charles wasn’t going anywhere with the ball.
“(Running backs) coach (Eric) Bieniemy always tells the guys that are blocking, take pride in your guy not making the play,” said Sherman, who successfully sprung Charles for the touchdown. “That’s what I try to do every play, just make sure my guy does not even come close to the running back.”
More often than not this season, Sherman, 24, has excelled at that. According to Pro Football Focus, a site that evaluates every player on every snap of every game, the 5-foot-10, 242-pound Sherman has the highest overall grade (plus-7.5) and run blocking grade (plus-5.9) of any NFL fullback, with Tennessee’s Collin Mooney coming in second in each category (plus-4.9 and plus-5.0).
“As a blocker, he does a nice job,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team ranks 12th in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 120.6. “You saw the big one he got on the goal line last week. He’s very willing and he takes a lot of pride in that.”
His teammates have noticed, too.
“Sherm has done a helluva job,” running back Cyrus Gray said. “He’s the heart and soul of the running back group and I think he’s the heart and soul of the offense.”
Gray doesn’t use those words lightly; he says them because Sherman essentially functions as a sixth offensive lineman for the Chiefs, someone who has excelled at doing the “dirty work” in the backfield to a staggering degree.
“He loves getting after it, and we definitely run a lot of plays behind him,” guard Geoff Schwartz said. “I know Jamaal has enjoyed running behind him.”
He should. Gray was adamant that Sherman hasn’t made a single mental error in the running game this season.
“It’s rare,” Gray said.
But while Sherman’s blocking has helped him stick with the Chiefs, who acquired him this offseason for cornerback and former second-round pick Javier Arenas, Reid joked Friday that Sherman has another facet of his game that has not yet been taken advantage of.
“Well, he reminds me that he hasn’t had a run,” Reid said with a smile.
Though Sherman has caught eight passes for 73 yards this season, his lack of carries this season is a bit ironic, considering he was once a standout running back at North Attleboro High School, where he ran for 1,202 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior and was chosen Massachusetts’ Gatorade Player of the Year in 2006.
But when Sherman was recruited to play fullback at Connecticut — the alma mater of Chiefs general manager John Dorsey — his days as a runner came to an end. Though he was a three-year starter in college, he only carried the ball 17 times for 61 yards, a far cry from the way Mike Alstott and Larry Czonka — his favorite fullbacks growing up — were used.
That trend continued in the NFL for Sherman, who logged only one carry for three yards in 28 career games with the Cardinals after he was picked in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
“That stuff doesn’t bother me,” Sherman said. “I take more pride in trying to get Jamaal past 100 yards every game, or for the passing game to be great on blitz pickup.”
On many levels, Sherman’s “whatever I can do to help” attitude makes sense. With the rise of spread offenses, the fullback position has been de-emphasized at almost every level.
“It’s just almost a position, even in college football, that is going by the wayside,” said Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said.
But to Pederson, the trend has benefited the Chiefs, who continue to utilize the fullback like the great West Coast offenses of the past.
“I feel like we have one of the (league’s) better fullbacks,” Pederson said. “We need that spot and he’s a guy that’s versatile enough that if a tight end were to go down, he could fill in for that spot. We’re going to keep using him.”
Especially if Sherman keeps executing his blocks as well as he did on Charles’ go-ahead touchdown run against the Titans.
“We talked about it all week, what (Griffin) was going to do,” Sherman said. “Coach Bieniemy put me in a good situation, told me exactly how to go about it and I just did what I was told.”