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Seahawks’ rookie Witherspoon showing he can play inside or outside at cornerback

Seattle has load of talent in secondary

By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer
Published: August 3, 2023, 8:45pm
4 Photos
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon, center, runs a drill with cornerback Lance Boykin (18) during a "Back Together Weekend" event at the NFL football team's training facility, Sunday, July 30, 2023, in Renton, Wash.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon, center, runs a drill with cornerback Lance Boykin (18) during a "Back Together Weekend" event at the NFL football team's training facility, Sunday, July 30, 2023, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson) Photo Gallery

RENTON — Since ending his brief holdout, rookie Devon Witherspoon has shown every bit of the skill and potential that made him the fifth overall pick in the draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

It just may come at a position that wasn’t expected when he became the highest draft selection of Pete Carroll’s tenure in Seattle.

At some point, Witherspoon will be a starting outside cornerback for the Seahawks. His talent seems to point in that direction for his future. And it could come at some point this season for Seattle.

But the secondary in Seattle is deep — perhaps the deepest position on a team with playoff aspirations. And because of that depth, the best way for Witherspoon to get on the field immediate and make an impact could end up being as a nickel cornerback for Seattle.

It’s a position that has become a de facto starter around the league, but one filled with nuance and specialized skill. And it’s one Witherspoon has picked up quickly.

“It’s going smooth; it was an easy transition once I got it down pat,” Witherspoon said. “Just keep getting a lot of reps at nickel, and then just kind of slow it down, bring it to your speed of the game. It’s a real easy transition, especially in our defense.”

This didn’t seem like the plan for Seattle when it selected Witherspoon back in April. The idea of Witherspoon on one side teamed with second-year cornerback Riq Woolen on the other quickly brought back memories of the exceptional young cornerbacks the Seahawks had a decade ago.

But Seattle already had a starter opposite Woolen in Michael Jackson, who started all 17 games last season. There’s also Tre Brown, a former fourth-round pick that’s now healthy after battling injuries, and last year’s fourth-rounder Coby Bryant.

That’s a load of talent, which is a good problem for Carroll to try and sort out. It also made coaches look at the idea of putting Witherspoon on the inside.

“He’s really instinctive. He does things kind of naturally right,” Carroll said. “Before we’ve even had a chance to get through all of the assignments and stuff like that. He has a real feel for things. So, he’s made really quick progress right there.”

One thing Witherspoon said he likes about playing on the inside is the chance to be more involved in the run game and be a little more physical than when he’s on the outside.

But as of now, he doesn’t have a preference.

“Outside, you are kind of on an island. You get the bigger type of receivers. In the slot, you get the shiftier guys and get to be in the run fit a little bit more,” Witherspoon said. “In the league, they move their top guys to the slot as well. You get a lot of good reps at both.”

Carroll said watching Witherspoon pick up the intricacies of playing both spots has been fun and entertaining. The first step in how it’ll look in a game setting will come next week when Seattle opens the preseason against Minnesota.

“It’s really exciting to not have to tell him everything,” Carroll said. “We’ve got to stay out of his way a little bit. He does understand and it makes sense, but we have to be really strict about the things he has to learn. It’s a really fun process.”

NOTES: Seattle edge rusher Darrell Taylor sprained a shoulder earlier this week and had his arm in a sling Thursday. Carroll said surgery isn’t needed but the team has to see how it responds. … Rookie RB Zach Charbonnet was back at practice Thursday after sitting out a few days with a sore shoulder. Carroll originally said Charbonnet would be out indefinitely, but he ended up missing only a handful of practices.

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