NAPA – David Amerson transitioned from expendable to invaluable in a snap. The journey entails a rock bottom, when Washington cut ties with nearly two years left on his rookie contract.
That’s a quick hook for any draft pick, especially the 51st player selected in 2013. The Redskins lost faith in a rare talent, unwilling to wait for him to figure it out.
Amerson was adrift on the waiver wire when Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie tossed a life preserver to a reclamation project worth his time.
Roughly 10 months later, that decision looks pretty smart. Amerson had 58 tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and a franchise-record 26 passes defensed in 14 games as a Raider. McKenzie liked the player and person enough to offer a four-year contract extension signed just prior to training camp.
Amerson’s improved play begs one obvious question: What’s the difference between then and now?
The topic has lingered, from his Raiders emergence through this training camp. Amerson doesn’t mind. He pondered the point until recently achieving clarity.
“Any time got beat on a play or anything went wrong on the field, the issues were self-inflicted,” Amerson said. “Once I started dialing in to my technique and paying attention to the little details – it was really about becoming a professional – my game started heading in the right direction.”
It has taken off, without signs of slowing. Interactions with receiver Michael Crabtree this camp have been particularly entertaining, and Amerson has shown an ability to make smart plays on the football against quality opposition.
The Raiders prefer their cornerbacks play physical at the line of scrimmage and blanket their man or play off, bait a throw and then swat it down. Amerson does those things well.
“When a guy feels like he can’t get open, you can see it wear on them,” Amerson said. “I love it when the frustration kicks in. Some people like to talk a lot, but that’s not my thing. You don’t have to say too much when you know you’re locking somebody down.”
Amerson has always been capable of this play. He hasn't always done so.
“I can count numerous times where watching film would drive me nuts,” Amerson said. “I’d see me guessing on a play instead of knowing what to do, or I wouldn’t identify the route right, or I wouldn’t have proper technique. I’m learning now about when to take chances and when to play it safe. I feel like I’ve progressed mentally, and am picking the right battles and opportunities to make a big play.”
Smart and disciplined. That’s how he wants to play from now on, proving he won't revert to old habits after too many pats on the back.
Amerson believes even better lies ahead. That’s realistic, considering he’s only 24 years old and just realizing what’s possible.
“I don’t want to step on the field this season feeling like I’m not prepared. That’s not what I want,” Amerson said. “I don’t want people to look at my play and say I was better last year, that I didn’t take my game to another level. I want to see progression, taking steps from A to B to C.
“A long time ago, somebody told me that success comes when preparation and hard work meet. I finally understand that now. I have always had confidence in my ability. Now I have confidence in my IQ for the game.”
Amerson’s in better position to play well, and feels an obligation to do so after the Raiders offered a second chance and a contract could make more than $30 million over the life of the deal.
“It’s a trust thing,” Amerson said. “The organization showed they had faith in me to produce for the next number of years. I don’t want to let them down. I want to show that I’m trustworthy, a guy they can depend on. In order to do that, you have to put in the work right now. In order to make plays in a game, you have to make strides and make plays in practice. Everything feels like second nature when you’re prepared.”