Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer; such was the case for David Amerson in late September of 2015.
Rewind the clock two years, and Amerson was a young cornerback at an impasse in his career. After being drafted in the second round (No. 51 overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, the athletic cornerback had spent his first two professional seasons in the nation's capital, but in the early stages of 2015 – his third season in Washington – he was waived.
Days later he was on the practice field with the Oakland Raiders, and while working with the scout team, then-defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson asked No. 29, a simple, albeit it very meta, question.
Why are you here?
"I just told him, 'it's a long story, Coach, but at the end of the day, I'm here, and I'm ready to work. Whatever y'all need me to do. I can play inside, I can play outside. Whatever you need me to do,'" recounted Amerson. "At that point I was just trying to get on the field."
After a strong rookie season in Washington, things didn't go quite as swimmingly for Amerson in Year Two, and by the time 2015 rolled around, he knew it was time for a change, for the sake of both him and the Redskins.
"Like I said, I made a lot of mistakes," Amerson explained. "I'm not saying it was all on Washington. I made a lot of mistakes, especially my second year. Not doing things the right way, stuff like that. Like I said, it left a bad taste with the coaches. They just couldn't get past that; once I really tried to come in and lock in, it was kind of already too late."
As the Redskins began the 2015 campaign, Amerson had an inkling he might not be in the team's long-term plans, and just a little over two weeks into the regular season, his premonition proved accurate as Washington waived him, less than a year after he started all but one game for the team.
For a young player who had as of yet not experienced that type of athletic struggle, that day on the waiver wire before being claimed by the Silver and Black was a sobering one.
"It was a wakeup call for sure," Amerson said. "And I think once I got here, and my back was kind of against the wall, it definitely opened my eyes up to the preparation that goes into games. You can't just show up thinking stuff is going to go your way, and it was a growing experience for me. I was younger then, and I learned a lot in two years with Washington, so once I got here, I think I was in the right mindset. "
A re-focused, re-motivated Amerson proved vital for the Raiders defense; just days after joining the team he made his debut in Silver and Black against the Cleveland Browns, then proceeded to make 12 starts en route to setting the franchise record for passes defensed in a season with 26.
In his third NFL season, on his second team, but with a new lease on his football life, Amerson wanted to make sure he made the most of his opportunity in Oakland; so, he headed into his time as a Raider with a renewed dedication to his craft, and a promise to himself to not make the same mistakes he did as a younger player.
"Once I got waived, it was a wakeup, like, yo this is real," he explained. "They're really releasing me. It's really do or die, so once I got here, I'm just going to go balls to the wall, do everything the right way, and take care of everything that I can control, and whatever happens after that is supposed to happen. I always knew what my ability was, and this and that, it was just the fact of going out there on Sunday and proving it, and like I said, luckily when I came here, that was the case."
And since September of 2015, Amerson has continually proved his worth week in and week out for the Raiders, and come Sunday, he'll get his first chance to square off against his former team in Silver and Black.
But ask Amerson, who actually now has more starts as a Raider (29) than he did as a Redskin (23), and Sunday's game against the Redskins is just the next game on the schedule, even if he cedes that walking into the visitor's locker room at FedEXField will be a little strange.
"It's definitely going to be a little weird," Amerson said. "A lot of guys that I was drafted with are still there having successful careers. I'm pretty sure just seeing some of the old training staff, it's going to be a little weird."
And while Amerson is understandably downplaying his return to Washington D.C., his teammate Donald Penn knows from experience that these types of games hold a little extra significance.
"Those are the guys that let you go," Penn said. "If you ain't got no juices flowing playing against your old team, there's something wrong with you. You have to have a little extra excitement, extra excitement in that game, I know you did when I played against my old team. I know David should too. You have to look at it like, they let you go, they turned your back on you, so you want to go in there and rub it in good, so I hope we do everything possible so Dave can get that feeling."
The Raiders have their hands full squaring off against Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins on Sunday Night Football, and while Amerson will no doubt see a lot of familiar faces when he arrives at FedExField, make no mistake about it, he's happy to be where he is right now.
"It's a great place to be,"Amerson said of being Raider. "Like I said, you have the best fans in the world. There's Raiders everywhere. You go play all the way in Baltimore, and half the stadium is filled with Raiders fans, or even more. It's just a vibe around here. Adding the coaches that we've got, the upstairs guys, the GM [Reggie McKenzie], and the owner [Mark Davis], all the way down to the players, my teammates, it's just a good vibe, a good place… it's hard not to want to be a Raider."