SANTA CLARA – Richard Sherman begins his eighth NFL season on Sunday. And one thing experience has taught him is that it the opening week of the NFL season never gets old.

“There’s always the rookie excitement,” Sherman said. “I don’t think it changes from your first year to your eighth year. I think you always go into it knowing you’re going to have a chance to do something special, and you’re excited about the possibility. You get the butterflies and all of that, and I don’t think that’ll ever change.”

But a lot of other things have changed for Sherman, 30, who made the move from the Seattle Seahawks to the 49ers shortly after his former team released him in March. Sherman also faces the biggest physical challenge of his career. He returns from a torn Achilles, which ended his final season in Seattle in November.

Through it all, Sherman is sticking with what he knows best – a routine perfected during four Pro Bowl seasons in Seattle to get him prepared to open a new chapter of his career. Sherman will be wearing a gold helmet on Sunday when the 49ers open the season against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Just getting my mind right, getting my preparation right,” he said.

The 49ers were prepared to act within minutes after Sherman’s name appeared on the NFL’s personnel report upon the Seahawks' decision to cut him. That evening, coach Kyle Shanahan dined with Sherman at Nick’s Next Door in Los Gatos.

 

“The first night I went to dinner with him, spending four hours with him, he’s really been the exact same person ever since that first day,” Shanahan said on 49ers Game Plan, which debuts Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

“He’s a very competitive person. He thinks everything out. He works as hard as anyone I’ve been around. What I’m most happy for Richard, that first night he had a long road ahead of him, recovering from his injury. And there wasn’t a doubt in his mind."

Sherman had a setback in training camp with a Grade 1 hamstring strain. He sat out the first two preseason games, but came back and looked strong against the Indianapolis Colts in the third game.

“He’s had a great week of practice, and I’m just excited for him that he’s overcome that, and I’m looking forward to watching him play,” Shanahan said.

But does Sherman look like the same player who was one of the most dominating players at his position in Seattle?

“Yeah, I think so,” Shanahan answered. “He moves the same. We’ll see on Sunday, but I’m real excited to have him and he’s going to help us a lot this year.”

Sherman does not even have to be the same player to benefit the 49ers. The other members of the starting secondary -- safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon – have combined for just one career start on opening week of the NFL season. Tartt started Week 1 of last season at free safety because Jimmie Ward was injured.

Even the coaching staff has benefitted from Sherman’s presence. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Sherman will engage him in discussion on the sideline between series. After all, with Sherman’s experience in the scheme, it is like having another coach on the field.

“Sherm does a great job with communication and being able to get on the sideline like in that Indianapolis game, (say), ‘This is what I saw,’” Saleh said. “He’s speaking to you because he was on the football field, he saw it. So that dialogue is always great. Him being able to do that and having that veteran presence and all that stuff is always beneficial.”

Sherman was fully and unconditionally accepted as a leader in the 49ers’ locker room from the moment he arrived for the team’s offseason program. Virtually overnight, one of the most reviled players among the 49ers and their fans became one of the most revered.

He even won over left tackle Joe Staley, the longest-tenured 49ers player, who had it in his mind that Sherman would be annoying -- just as he was for the 49ers during seven seasons as an NFC West rival.

“I’m a social butterfly, so it wasn’t anything I was really concerned about,” Sherman said. “Outside of Joe and maybe (Garrett) Celek, none of these guys were here when we’d play Frisco and go through all of that. I wasn’t worried about any of that. Joe is pretty great guy.”

 

This Sunday, be sure to watch 49ers Pregame Live at 9 a.m. and 49ers Postgame Live immediately after the game on NBC Sports Bay Area and live streaming on the NBC Sports app. Greg Papa, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Matt Maiocco and Laura Britt will have everything you need to know from the 49ers’ season opener.