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Robert Saleh: Ahkello Witherspoon earned the right to play

The 49ers have developed a cornerback rotation that could continue.

San Francisco 49ers v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers made an interesting decision last week when they rotated their cornerbacks much of the game. Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson got the start on the outside, but then we saw rookie Ahkello Witherspoon replace each of them for a series at a time.

Witherspoon was active for the first time the week before against the Indianapolis Colts. Prior to that, Asa Jackson had been the primary backup cornerback, but in Week 5, Witherspoon got snaps ahead of him. A concussion forced Witherspoon from the game after six snaps, but last week showed he has clearly moved up the depth chart.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh met with the media on Thursday, and he talked about the move to Witherspoon. Saleh said Witherspoon had earned the right to play. One thing Saleh likes with this coaching staff is that if you work hard and produce in practice, you will get an opportunity. He said Witherspoon, “worked his tail off in practice” and his “deliberate approach” in everything he does earned him an opportunity.

Witherspoon looked raw in training camp, and one area in particular where he struggled was tackling. Saleh said they have been working with Witherspoon on the tackling form that want, and he has shown improvement. According to Saleh, the form requires, “shoulder through the thigh, keeping head on leverage side,” and Witherspoon is starting to show that.

Saleh was pleased with what he saw from Witherspoon this past week against Washington. He made sure to clarify his move up the depth chart was more about him than Robinson or Johnson, and this weekend will provide a big challenge for the 49ers corners. Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley will bring plenty for the secondary to deal with, and a nice little challenge as Witherspoon looks to build on his playing time.