Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

49ers-Rams: Richard Sherman happy to be back from injury, gives effusive praise to Robert Saleh

Nov 29, 2020 at 6:55 PM--

Richard Sherman made two things clear following the 49ers' 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams: he's excited to be back on the football field after missing most of the season due to a calf injury, and that coordinator Robert Saleh deserves all the credit for how the defense performed against the Rams as well as while he was away.

Sherman made his presence felt against the Rams, leading the 49ers in tackles with seven while also coming up with an interception in his first game since Week 1. Sherman told reporters after the game that his time away from the game lit a spark within him, which was obvious based on the way he played on Sunday.

"It felt good (to be back)," Sherman said. "This is the game I love. I've been playing it for ten years -- really been playing it for 25 years or so. But you miss it. Sometimes an absence, an injury can bring back a bit of the fire, a bit of the passion, a bit of the love that you have for the game, and it's humbling. I was just grateful for the opportunity to be able to go back out there and ball out with my teammates. Regardless of the circumstance, regardless of what the situation is, it's an opportunity to go out there and play with the guys that I grinded with, so it was a pleasure."

Sherman's performance was a significant part of a fine overall defensive effort from the 49ers, who held the Rams in check for much of the game before making the stops that were needed down the stretch to put the team in a position to win. But when asked about some of the specifics of the defensive performance, Sherman launched into passionate praise of Saleh, who has been able to keep the defense competitive despite losing a number of key players due to injury (while also having to deal with the occasional COVID-19-related obstacle).

"You've got to give Robert Saleh an abundance of credit," Sherman said. "You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don't think he's getting enough credit, not only here but in the league in general."

Sherman added, "It's week after week and he never makes an excuse. And statistically, we're still a top-five defense in almost every category. There are (teams) out there with Pro Bowlers, All-Pros, that never had an injury, never had any adversity, and they're not putting out a top-five defense. He's not making any excuses. He's making great plans week in and week out, and we're making it happen."

The performance of the 49ers defense this season has led to plenty of speculation that Saleh will be a popular head coaching target once the offseason arrives. There's already been talk of Saleh's hometown team, the Detroit Lions, having some interest in his services. Regardless of whether or not the Lions come calling, Sherman thinks someone will give Saleh an opportunity sooner rather than later.

"I expect him to be a head coach next year because of what he's able to do," Sherman said. "He's able to rally men. He's a leader of men, and that goes a long way."

Sunday's performance against the Rams was a highly encouraging one for the 49ers, who got a number of players back from injury before the game in addition to Sherman. The performance showed the 49ers have not just the type of pieces back that can help them make a final push for a winning record but also the level of focus the players will need the rest of the way after learning they may have to play the rest of their games on the road this season due to new COVID-related restrictions in Santa Clara.

"It was status quo, and that's the only way we can treat it," Sherman said. "It was status quo. You can't worry about things that are out of your control. That's when you get messed up -- worrying about the outside distractions. We were in L.A., we had a game ahead of us. That's all we could focus on."

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