Nnamdi Asomugha gets most of the credit in the Oakland Raiders secondary and rightfully so as one of the best corners in the game. However, in 2010 Stanford Routt put together a pretty solid season in his own right yielding a 42% wide receiver catch percentage.
With the productive season, back in February before the lockout the Raiders rewarded Stanford with a contract extension that included $20 million in guaranteed money. With Asomugha a free agent and the recent contract extension, Stanford may end up top corner on the depth chart come the start of the 2011 season.
How does he feel about that? Well, I spent some time with him talking about that, his 2010 career season, and the mentality of a Raider corner.
Steve Wyremski (SW): What have you been up to? How have you been spending the lockout lengthened offseason?
Stanford Routt (SR): Just doing my usual: working out, and keeping up with the weights and the speed work. You have to keep the footwork handy as well, even though it’s not needed with the OTAs and mini-camps not coming up any time soon. I’m back in school, also. This will be my last semester, so I should be getting my degree before the summer is over with. That’s really it. Just working out and in school.
SW: You just signed a contract extension a few months back with $20 million guaranteed and have had a reasonably successful NFL career. Why go back to school at this point?
SR: School is something you’ve got to finish. My parents always taught me [that] if you start something you have to finish it. I believe that school, or should I say college, isn’t really that hard. It’s just something you have to get through. Because I’m so far and so close to graduating, I think it would be pointless to not go ahead and finish it out.
SW: That big contract you signed a big contract extension with the Raiders back in February … it certainly must have been a weight off your shoulders heading into the lockout and the time off from football.
SR: Yeah, it was definitely good to go in and get everything done before the lockout began. [I don’t] have to worry about the unknown or question marks in my own personal situation. In this lockout offseason, all I really have to worry about is finishing up with my degree, staying in shape, staying out of trouble, and maintaining the same mentality that I do every offseason.
SW: Back in college at Houston, you excelled in indoor track. You were named Conference USA’s Men’s Indoor Track Player of the Year and ran at the NCAA indoor championships in the 60 meter and 200 meter dashes. How does track help you on the field?
SR: It obviously makes you faster. When you have speed you can just start doing things you want to. It helps with the endurance. Specifically for my situation and my position, track is a sport that’s singular. Other than the relays, it is an individual sport [and] just based on you … your mentality, your performance, and how you’re going to do against your opponent. [That’s] very similar to corner, especially with the scheme we play in Oakland with a lot of man-to-man. You live on an island a whole lot and [are in] your own world. It’s a pretty good correlation and pretty good as far as how it transfers over.
SW: Sticking with the mentality as a member of the Oakland Raiders secondary, you guys have a certain style of play. Describe that and take me through the Oakland secondary mentality.
SR: [Laughs] I guess … commitment to excellence. The main thing is you’ve got to go out there and make plays. You realize you’re not going to have much help as far as double teaming. We don’t blitz as other teams do because we have such a strong front four in the pass rush. You’ve just got to go out there, do your job, [and] cover your man. The thing we live by is “no excuses” and “find a way to make it happen”. The scheme isn’t going to change and most of the time the play calling isn’t going to change, so it’s all on you. You’ve got to go out there and let your nuts hang. We always said that there’s no long distance on the island. You can’t call for help.
SW: When you look at the numbers and considering sitting on the island man-to-man, in 2010 you led the league in penalties against among corners with 12, while Asomugha and Chris Johnson each had eight. On top of that, you guys don’t really give up many catches. Is that part of the scheme that you’re going to play physical, you’re going to get up in the guy’s face and if that leads to a penalty, so be it?
SR: Yeah, obviously with the penalties in today’s game it depends on the referee and it’s in the eye of the beholder. Whatever he feels is a penalty he’ll call. We don’t get into all of that and we don’t worry about all of that. Even with you saying that I led the league in penalties, I didn’t even know that was to be true from what I was told from the NFL. If that’s what it is then it is what it is. We just go out there and play football. We don’t worry about the penalties. You can’t worry about that. If you play aggressive, that’s when stuff like that happens. If you go and play timid, that’s when a lot of catches [and] a lot of touchdowns and high-scoring offenses really get going.
SW: I know you have issues with the thrown at numbers/targets against from some of the your other interviews I’ve seen. [Explain PFF]. Interestingly enough, we came up with the same targets (99 targets) against for you that the NFL did. With mixed cover and when players are in the seam, we try to assign the target to the player as best we can. Obviously, if a corner and a linebacker are passing coverage responsibility the quarterback’s target may be between coverage. We assign the target as best as possible. Is that really the main issue you have – when players are being passed off or in the seam and a target is assigned to you?
SR: I’d probably say yes and no, but probably a little bit more no than yes. My seemingly displeasure or disapproval was never really anything that was strong. It was more of a comment that I made. You know what I mean?
I don’t live by what my catch to attempt ratio is. I just worry about wins and losses. For the sake of the point that you’re asking me, a few times last season, allegedly, I gave up five or six touchdowns which is far from the case. People look at the TV screen / video and because they don’t know the coverages that we’re in sometimes, they just see me chasing after somebody and automatically assume that was [my] guy. That may not even be the case. That’s one of the things I know comes with the business and the position, but I really don’t get into all of that.
Every once and a while, you have a homeboy that’s really a football fanatic and loves to read stuff on the internet and he’ll call me up and be like, “Hey, Stan. I see you got beat on six touchdowns last year.” I’ll be like, “No, I actually gave up three.” [He then says in response], “They said six on Pro Football Focus or ESPN.” It is what it is. That’s what they put out there.
Furthermore and I could be wrong, but I didn’t even think I had been thrown at 99 times. I thought it was somewhere in the 60s or 70s. One thing that someone pointed out to me is that the sites that keep these things charted [look at] how many times the ball was thrown into your coverage and not necessarily your man. [So,] if I’m in Cover-2 and I’m playing corner and jamming and even if they throw to the tight end or the running back in the flat, that’s still considered a pass and a reception. In football standards, you want them to throw that little 2-yard catch and that 2-yard flare route instead of a 15-20 yard corner route. In football standards, we consider that a win, but statistically and grading which corner has the best catch percentage that goes against and would look like a negative.
SW: Those targets actually, Stanford … your WR catch percentage against was 42.4%. When you compare that to other corners in the league that ranked you #2 behind only Darrelle Revis. How do you accomplish that?
SR: [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s a trick question or not. To be frank, you just go out there and play football. When you’re trying to win, go to the playoffs, be the best team in the AFC West, and be the #1 defense and secondary in the league, it’s not really that hard. You go out there and make plays. Whatever you do, you just try to separate your man from the football.
Furthermore, playing alongside Nnamdi [Asomugha] when you know you’re going to be thrown at because team’s stay away from him, it’s something you take as a pride factor. It’s something you take as pride and take a little bit as a disrespect and [you play] with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. It’s motivation. What’s so weird and what I think people misconstrue or overlook is … I just finished my sixth year in the league, but in a lot of ways I just finished my second year. The only years I started were my third and my sixth. A lot of people were surprised by my catch rate and I feel like this year I really didn’t do anything special. I didn’t meditate before the games or do anything out of the ordinary. I just went out and played football.
I think what everybody was surprised about was how strong I finished within the rankings of burn rate and lack of touchdowns I got beat on. People fail to realize that I never really started other than my 3rd year in 2007. When people are surprised at how [I] did this year … what were they comparing it to? I went a whole two years without starting. That’s how it goes, though.
SW: Does that make it difficult? You go from a period of starting and playing a bit, to not starting, and back to starting again two years later. Does that make it difficult to develop as a corner?
SR: It does. I’ll tell you, the one thing that didn’t hurt me as much was that even though I wasn’t starting I still watched film, paid attention, learned from watching DeAngelo [Hall], Nnamdi, Charles Johnson, and especially Charles Woodson with Green Bay (I was with him in Oakland my rookie year). Just watching football and learning how teams attack you, certain pass plays, certain routes receivers run inside the numbers versus outside the numbers, on top of the numbers, or on bottom of the numbers. The mental aspect I was still able to gain, [but] the physical aspect I wasn’t on the field as much to put it in motion.
One thing that’s plagued me before is that I’m a rhythm guy. I like to be in a rhythm. That’s when I can really do well. Coming off the bench one out of every three plays playing nickel back actually is very difficult. You’re coming in the game cold, everybody else in there is already warm and fresh, and they’re already in the speed of the game. So, it is very difficult sometimes to get going. With me getting my starting spot back prior to the 2010 season, all I needed was a few games under my belt and it was like walking again.
SW: Nnamdi [Asomugha] gets a ton of praise and attention out in Oakland and the NFL often referred to as the top corner in the game. In your mind, is he the best corner in the game?
SR: Yes. What makes him best, in my opinion, is that everybody in the National Football League can cover (allegedly), everybody has speed, everyone can go and do good at the combine, [but] the one thing that sets him apart from everybody else is his mind. One thing he’s always told me is you’ve always got to be locked in to every situation, every down distance, whether the receiver is inside/outside the numbers, the way the quarterback gets under center, the formation, the motion, and all of that. That’s what sets him apart. He actually rubbed off a lot on me last season with his patience, focus, and paying attention to the little things. He’s easily the best one. He may not be the best playmaking corner (in my opinion that’s Charles [Woodson]), but as far as the best period … yeah, he is.
SW: Do you ever feel overshadowed with him getting all of that attention from the media and fans out in Oakland?
SR: I would say that overshadowed isn’t the right word. He gets noticed and he gets recognized. Everything that he gets recognized and praised for is well deserved. He’s been doing this since my second year in the league – 2006. He’s earned his stripes and the fruit of his labor. I don’t get into all of that and go by the school of thought that if you’re working hard and doing what you’re supposed to do and keep doing well, somebody’s going to take notice. I guess you could say this past offseason was my recognition [with the contract]. So no, I don’t take offense to that.
SW: Our Khaled Elsayed recently posted a piece on corners and analyzing their cover snap counts. [Explains article]. In that, you ranked sixth overall behind guys like Revis, Tramon Williams, Brandon Carr, Ike Taylor, and Cromartie. How do you feel about that?
SR: Oh, wow. I appreciate the compliment. Like I said, I just go out there and I play. I don’t think there is any corner in this league that’s better than me flat out. I think there’s corners more experienced and that get more recognition, but I don’t think there are any that are better than me. I don’t think I’m the best corner in the game just yet, but I don’t think there’s anyone that’s better than me. I would never bet against myself. That’s probably the best way I’d put it.
One thing that I take pride in going back to the 99 attempts is that you can go down the board (you personally) and name your top 10 corners that you think are the best in the game. Out of everybody, the thing that I take pride in is that I play corner and I play nickelback. I play in a scheme where it’s man coverage all the time; no help. There are times where I play left, some times I play right, there’s times I play in the slot and every snap I’m covering a receiver. The only other corner in the game that plays inside and plays in a man based situation is, like I said, the best play making corner in the game – Charles Woodson. I don’t think many people could play as many snaps, as many man cover situations, and as many spots with corner and inside that I play. I don’t think many people can do that.
SW: Yeah, it looks like you played 45% of your snaps inside.
SR: Yeah, exactly. Other than Charles, I don’t think there are too many corners that play inside and outside. What’s so weird about it is that’s who I learned from.
SW: You look at those cover snap numbers and how many people attack you and shied away from Nnamdi. With Nnamdi a free agent, is any part of you saying, “Hey, I don’t mind if he’s not re-signed. I’m ready to be the #1 corner.”?
SR: I would love to have him back. He’s good to learn from and he’s just a good all around person. With him coming back, most people would think our defense would be better, and it might be. If he’s not back, we’ll be just fine. We’ll go ahead and somebody else will step up: Chris Johnson, Jeremy Ware, Walter McFadden, or the two new guys we got coming in. Somebody’s going to step up. When Charles left, all of a sudden here comes Nnamdi Asomugha.
As far as what you’re saying about the whole #1 thing, this is the way I look at it … You guys take all the stats and chart everything. A lot of people would look at the #1 guy as the one who is the best. I agree with that completely. You also may want to look at it as the #1 guy is the guy with the most workload. There’s no one that had a larger workload in our secondary last year than myself. In a lot of ways, I think I was playing with the workload of a #1 corner last year. “Not exactly”, but I think you get the point I’m trying to make.
There were times Nnamdi was hurt last year and I had to go match up on a top receiver, or even times where he wasn’t hurt. Who do you think the offensive coordinators sent the top receivers? Not the right side [to Nnamdi] … the left side [to me]. I basically was assuming all of those duties last year. I know how the media wants to break it down. I’ll just go out there and play football whether he’s there or not. We still got 16 games we gotta play this year assuming there’s a season.
SW: [Discuss PFF in further detail]. We ranked your Week 11 game against the Steelers and your Week 12 game against Miami as your roughest games of the year from a coverage perspective. We ranked them -2.0 in each of those games. Do you agree with those two being your roughest games and why?
SR: Let me think here. In the Pittsburgh game, I gave up 1 catch for 13 yards. I probably have a good idea what you’re talking about when you say -2.0 as far as coverage and why that’s the roughest one. What’s so weird about it is that I only gave up one catch in that game and it was actually in the first quarter. It was the 2nd drive of the game in the first quarter. There was a little bit of a miscommunication on that.
The Miami game, yeah, that actually wasn’t one of my better games. They kept running a lot of crossing routes on me [and] caught a 15 yard out on 3rd down. Yeah, that probably wasn’t one of my better games. You’re correct on that, but Pittsburgh was one catch. I think a 15-yard out to Emmanuel Sanders. Now that I think back on it, I know what you graded me on. The first play of the game was a flare route to Heath Miller. We were in zone coverage on that play. In that situation, the only thing I could do is come up and make the tackle. As far as me stopping the catch, with the type of coverage we were in on that play, it’s impossible. I get it [where the rating comes from], but I wouldn’t agree with Pittsburgh being one of my roughest games.
SW: On the contrary, what do you feel was your best game of the season? I want to test our rankings out here and see how they compare with your own perception.
SR: [Stanford proceeds to walk through every game and detail every catch he gave up including the player, route, etc. for all over the course of the season in each game.]
SW: [Halfway through Stanford’s games]. It’s crazy how you remember this. Do you have this all written down or something?
SR: Trust me. Playing corner for the Raiders, your job is to cover. You don’t have to worry much about run responsibility and Cover-2, so it forces you to live in your own world when we play on an island as much as we do. You have to grade yourself on catches and touchdowns.
[Proceeds to finish detailing every game and the catches against him in each game.]
I would have to say my best game was Denver or Seattle. Both Kansas City games as well. The first [KC game] for what was at stake in the AFC West. The second game for what was at stake with the playoffs and us going 6-0 and for how it became apparent after the first two series of the game … Dewayne Bowe lined up on my side of the field every play. He caught two little 8-yard hitches, an under route, and that’s when I finally figured out what was going on. I just started playing underneath him and [Michael] Huff would just have me over the top. All that stuff just started disappearing and then, of course, I got a pick to the house. I would have to go with Denver and Seattle, though.
SW: We had Seattle as your top game in pass coverage and the second best was actually that second Kansas City game in Week 17. After that it was the Denver game.
SR: That Kansas City game the second time around, I don’t feel statistically that I did good. Dewayne Bowe had something like three catches for 30 or so yards and I usually don’t like to give up anything more than one catch a game. I usually give myself one play to be not where I need to be.
Playing in our scheme, teams attack us differently than they do other teams. Like, towards the end of the season, teams seemed to love to start running under routes against me. [They’d run] crossing routes where someone could get in my way and they wind up picking me. Then, when I’m [on] the other side where they have the receiver lined up in real tight where I couldn’t come up and press and get my hands on [the receiver]. Little bullsh** plays like that.
SW: Stepping off the field, you have your own foundation called Routt2Success. Tell me a little about that and what it’s all about.
SR: It’s exactly the name. The main focal point is giving kids the right opportunities to succeed in life. When I was growing up in middle school and high school, the most important time for children or young adults from success and [failure] is right there from 3 o’clock to 6pm. Growing up, there were probably 2-3 people who were better than me and even a little faster than me, but it wasn’t in the cards and didn’t work out for them.
You have so many kids who are talented or smart in school, but they make bad choices or decisions right after school. Most kids’ parents don’t get off work til 5 or 6 o’clock and the kids are at home alone until then. That’s when they get into teenage sex, teenage pregnancy, guns, gangs, violence, and just all that negative stuff where it can derail a kid from being on the right track to being on the wrong track.
For me, the best thing was always being in sports. In high school, I was in football, basketball, and track. I was always busy after school with sports. By the time I got home my parents were already home, so the window for me to do wrong was very small. That’s where my foundation really takes off giving kids things to due during those hours after school to keep them from doing negative things whether it’s with sports, studying, or anything else to occupy their time. It doesn’t have to just be sports.
It was truly incredible how Stanford remembered every single catch he gave up on the year. Sure, it’s only 42 catches on the season, but I was shocked. It should be interesting to see what happens with Asomugha in free agency once the lockout is lifted, but with the contract the Raiders gave Routt, it seems like he’s positioned to be the #1 corner in 2011.
The #1 corner on the depth chart, that is.
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