Cornerback David Amerson gets new life with Raiders

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OAKLAND — David Amerson still thinks about the day his phone rang in late September, bad news waiting on the other end.

Two years earlier, Amerson had been the Washington Redskins’ top draft choice, a second-round cornerback who had excelled at North Carolina State. Now, after 44 games as a pro — and 32 as a starter — he was being cut by the team that drafted him. It seems to have been exactly what Amerson — and, for that matter, the Redskins — needed.

Amerson joined the Oakland Raiders shortly after Washington cut him, and in a recent interview in the Raiders’ locker room, Amerson acknowledged his inconsistent play in the weeks before his release. But even now, he said he’s uncertain why Washington gave up on him so soon.

“When I talked to the coaches, I mean, they didn’t really know, either, to be honest,” said Amerson, who earlier this month turned 24. “I don’t know if it was something from a higher power or what the case was. But I just accepted it and moved on with it. I still don’t know to this day.”

He hasn’t just moved on, though. Since being picked up on waivers by Oakland, Amerson quickly won a starting job and has been the disruptive force the Redskins presumably saw him as before the 2013 NFL draft. He has started nine of 11 games since joining the Raiders, and even in limited appearances, his 21 pass breakups (20 of which he has accumulated since leaving Washington) rank third in the NFL. He also has two interceptions and a forced fumble.

A 6-foot-1, 205-pounder, Amerson hasn’t made any changes to his physical approach, he said. Instead, he used the release from Washington as motivation to tighten his mental game and, perhaps more important, develop an edge he lacked during his first two-plus NFL seasons.

“Just the biggest thing,” he said, “is the chip on my shoulder, man. … I had to be mentally strong and know that I was going to get another shot elsewhere. It happened to be here.”

Amerson was the most visible and highest-drafted player let go from Washington’s largely disappointing 2013 class. Two players, third-round tight end Jordan Reed and fifth-round running back Chris Thompson, remain from that group, Mike Shanahan’s final draft as head coach and the franchise’s top personnel man. Amerson was the fifth player Washington had given up on within a little more than two years. Another, sixth-round safety Bacarri Rambo, is a starter for the Buffalo Bills.

Amerson said he got along with his teammates and felt he was off to a good start with coach Jay Gruden, first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry and defensive backs coach Perry Fewell. He saw improvement in his game and approach even as he was being phased out of Washington’s defense.

His play — largely influenced by questionable study and preparation habits — simply never caught up with the team’s expectations of him, and Amerson couldn’t help but notice that the franchise seemed to have lost faith in him.

After Amerson was let go, Gruden told reporters that the young corner possessed “the size and he’s got all the measurables” but that he needed to become a more consistent player.

Amerson made a brief appearance in the Redskins’ season opener, and the Miami Dolphins saw a clear chance to take advantage of a weak defender. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw in Amerson’s direction seven consecutive times, completing the final pass for a touchdown. Amerson, who had started 15 games in 2014, didn’t return to Washington’s secondary; the following week against St. Louis, he appeared only on special teams, drawing a blocking penalty at one point.

The next day, he was driving to Redskins Park and his phone rang. The team had seen enough.

“I was like, ‘Damn,’ ” Amerson said. “It wasn’t totally unexpected. I had stopped playing. They had stopped giving me playing time, so I knew something was going on.”

Thinking back on the team’s decision, Amerson continued.

“When I got cut, man, it definitely hurt me,” he said. “D.C. was my first home. I was familiar with a lot of people there and made a lot of friends. I’ll always have love for D.C., but it definitely hurt when they cut me.”

The uncertainty seems to have acted as a wake-up call, and in his second appearance for the Raiders, Amerson collected five tackles and forced a fumble in a loss at Chicago. Washington’s secondary, under Fewell’s supervision, has seemed better off, too: NFL journeyman Will Blackmon has been a good fit as a starting corner opposite Bashaud Breeland, and Quinton Dunbar has been a solid third cornerback since being promoted from the practice squad.

“I think they were just looking for a change,” Amerson said. “Maybe they thought I was part of the problem or whatever the case may have been. I don’t know.”

Regardless of the reasons, the divorce seems to have been the right move. Amerson, for his part, said he is happy in Oakland, and the Raiders haven’t minded the surprising play from a player who possessed the talent — but perhaps needed some extra motivation.

“I just wanted to go out there and prove that I can do it, prove that I can be a good corner in this league and try to be great,” Amerson said. “Whatever the case might’ve been in Washington, whether I let them down or disappointed them or whatever, when I got my shot again I just wanted to go out there and prove that I can do it — prove that I can be a good corner in this league and try to be great.

“That was my biggest thing, just going to another place and giving it all I’ve got.”

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