David Amerson didn’t sign with the Raiders. The athletic cornerback was claimed off the waiver wire. He didn’t want to get released in-season by Washington, which cut bait with nearly two seasons left on his contract.
Despite that disappointment, Amerson didn’t let the moment drag him down. He focused instead on a new opportunity with a Raiders team in desperate need of quality cornerbacks.
“When I got released (by Washington), I had to come in and make a statement,” Amerson said after last week’s minicamp. “That was my whole mindset throughout the season. Thankfully…I was able to do it.”
That was easier, because Amerson's an excellent scheme fit. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. prefers tall, physical cornerbacks who can make plays on the ball. Enter Amerson, who stands 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and has 33-inch arms able to bat passes down.
Amerson was targeted often in 2015, which often proved a mistake. Amerson had 109 passes come his way last year, and allowed 61 receptions (a 56-percent completion rate) for an 11.5-yard average, two touchdowns and four interceptions. The team also credited him with 27 passes defensed, and his 26 as a Raider was a franchise record.
Amerson enters a new year with confidence but doesn't consider last year’s production as a new normal.
Not yet, anyway.
“You have to put last year behind you and improve as a player,” Amerson said. “I can’t act like I know everything, because I know I don’t. There are a lot of areas where I need to improve. I need to invest time in those areas and continue to work and produce results.”
Amerson has drive to improve, and is ready to learn. He always had coaches in Marucs Robertson and Rod Woodson to rely on, but a peer mentor signed on earlier this offseason. Sean Smith has quickly assumed a leadership role among defensive backs, and is ready to work with Amerson.
“He’s one of the most athletic people I’ve ever met,” Smith said last month. “D.A. can make all the cuts, all the breaks. I’m definitely looking forward to working with him. Again, another young guy who’s been in the league for a few years. It’s all mental, just trying to get guys to see the game like I see it, that way I can slow it down for them. A lot of them go out there and play instead of reacting.”
Amerson was part of a young core in 2015, and welcomes a new veteran presence.
“Sean is a smart dude who has no problem passing information on to us,” Amerson said. “Being around him during OTAs has been great, and I’m excited to see how much more I can learn as we head through the season. We’re looking forward to locking people down out there.”
Having a pair of quality cornerbacks would be new in Alameda. The Raiders have recycled bodies at the position for years, and hope to establish continuity on the outside. Smith is signed for the next four years. The Raiders assumed Amerson’s rookie contract, and he’s an unrestricted free agent at season's end. Amerson believes he has more to prove in a pivotal season, and expects to do so under some fire.
Teams might shy away from Smith, sending more passes Amerson's way.
“That means there are more opportunities to make plays,” Amerson said. “As a corner, you can never be scared of the ball coming your way. You’re on an island by yourself, and you have to stand up and fight when the time comes. Sean is an established corner in this league, and I’m still trying to establish myself. I’m prepared to see the ball coming my way.”
Amerson is focused on little things that could help him play faster and therefore better. He also wants to be tough on receivers, to be an intimidator who can alter routes.
“Coach Norton likes cornerbacks to be up on the line and be physical and get hands on receivers,” Amerson said. “That will be key with our pass rush. With them getting after the ball, we want to make it a little bit harder on quarterback. We want the passer to hold the ball a little longer, and let the guys up front do their thing.”