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Ahkello Witherspoon has “turned into a man”

Robert Saleh discusses how the young defensive back has evolved in just one season

NFL: San Franciso 49ers-Minicamp Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Sherman has been very complimentary about San Francisco 49ers sophomore defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon. He has taken him under his wing, even him inviting him to his “cornerback summit” where he worked out with the “big dogs,” which included Aqib Talib, Darius Slay, and Xavier Rhodes. Sherman has also said that there’s nothing too big for Witherspoon and that people will know his name after another season.

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh reiterated Sherman’s sentiments in his first training camp press conference. His description of the transition of his appearance is worth noting:

“Ahkello? When he got here, he was this little, scrawny corner that everyone said wouldn’t hit anybody. He’s turned into a man. If you look at him, he has great presence out on the football field. He’s a grown man. He’ll hit people. I couldn’t be more pleased, but the same thing, he’s got three games to go before he’s not a rookie anymore and he’s got a lot of stuff to learn. It’s going to be a constant theme. There’s a lot of young players on our team that have a lot of potential, but potential doesn’t mean anything unless you act on it. That goes with being deliberate in everything that they do. The great thing is, he’s got the mindset to approach every rep, whether it’s walk-through, practice, individual, it doesn’t matter. He’s working. He’s trying to get to a place, a place of greatness. He’s got a mindset that I wouldn’t bet against him.”

Most media members admit that when Witherspoon walked into the media room for his initial post draft interview that he wasn’t what you’d thought would garner a third round pick and the 66th overall selection in 2017. He was quiet, slight of build and not too much was known about him. Obviously the front office knew better. Saleh explains:

“I think we all did. [General manager] John [Lynch], Kyle, [vice president of player personnel] Adam [Peters], [senior personnel executive] Martin Mayhew. They all saw it. They wouldn’t have drafted him if they didn’t. There’s a lot of studying that went into Ahkello. When you use a third-round pick on somebody, you have great confidence, obviously. We never had a doubt.”

Cornerbacks and NFL players in general need to have a level of confidence to succeed in the league. That's a marked change in what you see from Witherspoon this year.

“Confidence comes with belief. He has great confidence because he’s gone out and he’s done it and he’s had success. He is, he’s completely morphed into this grown man that’s got great confidence. He’s in a great spot right now mentally and I’m excited to see where he goes.”

Sherman being on one side of the field has influenced opposing quarterbacks to not target his side. Will that put more pressure on Witherspoon who will be playing opposite of him?

“I think he’ll hold his own. Not really worried about that. Whether teams throw away from Sherm or what, it doesn’t change what we do schematically. I’m pretty confident that Spoon’s going to be able to hold up.”

Witherspoon has already shown very close coverage covering various receivers in camp and the pads haven't even come on yet. He has been a like a sponge, soaking up information and tips from Sherman as well as the coaches. It seems if he continues on this path, he could very well be a force to be reckoned with, not that he isn’t already.