02-29-2012, 06:08 PM
Few NFL players could tell you more about the circuitous route taken by most cornerbacks than Stanford Routt, the former Oakland Raiders and current Kansas City Chiefs pass defender. A speedster out of Houston, Routt was taken in the second round of the 2005 NFL draft by a Raiders team that has long valued two things in their cornerbacks: demon speed and the ability to play man coverage to the exclusion of everything else. Routt fit the bill on paper -- his 4.27 scouting combine run still stands as one of the fastest ever -- but on the field, he spent a couple years outrunning more advanced coverages as he learned the game from the nickel slot. By 2010, he had learned enough to excel as Oakland's No. 2 cornerback behind the great Nnamdi Asomugha, and he parlayed that into a*No.*1*role after Asomugha left for the Philadelphia Eagles. What came with that was a five-year, $54 million contract that was Al Davis' last major expenditure on a starting man corner concept that went back to the days of Willie Brown in the 1960s. However, carrying on that lineage before and after Davis' death in October of 2011 was made far more difficult by several schematic changes that occurred almost immediately after Davis' passing. When Shutdown Corner spoke with Routt in an exclusive interview on Monday evening, he refused to throw anyone in Oakland -- player or coach -- under the bus. That wasn't really necessary, because the changes in Oakland's defense were obvious to anyone with access to a DVR, or NFL Game Rewind. Straight from a series of effective hybrid fronts and man coverage concepts, the Raiders moved to schemes that had linebackers covering intermediate zones like proverbial headless chickens, run support safeties playing deep quarters, and cornerbacks playing force defender and run support roles against multi-receiver sets. Add in that there was limited time for the existing personnel to switch from man to zone coverage due to the lockout, and what seemed to be a complete misunderstanding of how best to use the roster on hand, and it's no surprise that defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan was fired after the season was done. For Routt, the results were as regressive as they were for many other Oakland defenders. In 2010, per STATS, Inc., Routt had the second-lowest Burn Rate (targets divided by catches) in the NFL among cornerbacks with 50 or more targets. The best guy? Someone named Darrelle Revis. Routt gave up just five touchdowns on 99 targets, and seemed to be ready to take his place as an elite cornerback. Not quite so fast -- in 2011, and in some very questionable schemes, Routt's Burn Rate was still above average (46 catches in 97 targets; 19th in the league), but he gave up eight touchdowns and led the league with 17 non-declined penalties (Seattle's Brandon Browner led the league with 19 called penalties, but three were declined). It all came to a head after ex-Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen replaced Hue Jackson as the team's head coach. Routt, who had already restructured his contract once, was sent packing by a coach he hadn't met, as Routt put it, "until we had the break-up." Routt said that no specific reason was given -- his farewell was marked by the same "We've decided to go in a different direction" stuff you see whenever a player is cut -- and he was on the market before he knew it. "Hindsight is always 20/20 -- I really don't know," Routt said when asked if he would have restructured again. "There's no telling what I might have done [given that option]. As far as being surprised, it was a little bit of a surprise, but it was in the back of my mind as something I knew was possible." The 2011 season was as much a disappointment to Routt as to everyone else in Oakland, and he refused to put the blame elsewhere. The penalties, however, came with the caveat you might expect from any NFL player who has watched officiating crews call illegal contact and pass interference with frustrating inconsistency over the last few seasons.