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News / Sports / Seahawks

Woolen still learning in standout rookie season for Seahawks

His 6 interceptions are most by a rookie in Seattle franchise history

By TIM BOOTH, Associated Press
Published: December 22, 2022, 3:51pm
4 Photos
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen, center, celebrates after intercepting a pass as teammates Jordyn Brooks (56) and Teez Tabor (39) watch during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen, center, celebrates after intercepting a pass as teammates Jordyn Brooks (56) and Teez Tabor (39) watch during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) Photo Gallery

RENTON — For the most part, Tariq Woolen’s rookie season in Seattle has gotten one glowing review after another.

He has six interceptions, which is tied for the league lead and the most by any rookie. He’s making a case for defensive rookie of the year. And he’s already getting special treatment from opponents choosing not to throw his direction at times.

But for all the accolades Woolen has received, he’s still a young cornerback prone to the occasional mistake.

That’s what happened last week against San Francisco when Woolen’s miscue in coverage led to a long touchdown pass to George Kittle in Seattle’s 21-13 loss. It was the kind of error Woolen has mostly avoided.

But true to his nature and his stature as one of the top young cornerbacks in the league, Woolen immediately owned up to his error to the point Seattle’s coaches were worried about the 23-year-old being too hard on himself.

“It’s interesting the responsibility that he feels and how serious he took it. He feels like he let guys down and stuff, he made an error that cost us, but this is a moment for him,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, he just continues to accept the responsibility that he has. He has a big responsibility very quickly. He even mentioned how he never has felt like this before. He has such a big part, everybody is counting on him and he wants to come through.”

When Seattle nabbed Woolen on the third day of the draft last spring, no one would have expected this kind of season. He was a starter almost from the first day of training camp in the summer. Through 14 games, he has invited comparisons to Richard Sherman, another standout cornerback the Seahawks found in the fifth round of the draft more than a decade ago.

Woolen’s six picks — tied for the league lead with Philadelphia’s C.J. Gardner-Johnson — are the most by a rookie in Seattle franchise history. If Woolen can grab one more interception in the final three games, he would become one of five rookies since 2000 with at least seven picks.

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Perhaps more amazing is that Woolen is relatively inexperienced at cornerback. As he noted on Wednesday, he played less than 20 games on defense in college at UTSA.

“It just feels good to be able to accomplish all that within a short span of my career playing the cornerback position,” Woolen said. “It builds confidence going forward and also it shows that I can go out here and play in this league.”

Woolen has also done some little things to try and improve. For instance, defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt remembered that when Woolen — a former wide receiver — arrived for rookie minicamp last May, he couldn’t catch a thing.

“He couldn’t catch a cold in Alaska. It was rough,” Hurtt said.

So Woolen started working more on his hands, whether it was tennis ball drills or catching balls off the football version of a pitching machine. Once the season started, Woolen enlisted No. 3 quarterback Sean Mannion to throw to him after every play of every team drill just to continue the work.

“It’s not just the talent, but it’s the work ethic,” Hurtt said.

Woolen’s skills, preparation and ability to rebound from a mistake should be tested this week by Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s potent offense. The Chiefs aren’t likely to avoid throwing in his direction.

“As the game goes through, you may try something new or you just want to make a play so bad you just end up losing focus on the main goal and that’s to just do your job,” Woolen said.

Injury updates

The Seahawks will be without starting defensive tackle Al Woods and safety Ryan Neal for Saturday’s game at Kansas City because of injuries.

Running back Kenneth Walker III (ankle/back), tight end Noah Fant (knee), wide receiver Marquise Godwin (wrist/ankle) and running back DeeJay Dallas (ankle) were all listed as questionable, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Thursday that all should be able to play.

Walker had some back spasms pop up during the week but expects to play. Dallas has missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain.

Woods will miss his second straight game with an Achilles injury, while Neal is dealing with a sore knee that he was able to play through the past couple of games. Seattle had already ruled out wide receiver Tyler Lockett after he had surgery earlier this week to repair a broken bone in his left hand.

Carroll said Thursday that Woods is hopeful he’ll be back next week when Seattle hosts the New York Jets.

With Neal out, the Seahawks will turn to the combo of Teez Tabor and former first-round pick Johnathan Abram, who was claimed by Seattle late last month.