The San Francisco 49ers secondary has been the talk all offseason. That talk will likely continue during the season as the unit will be under pressure after a poor 2018. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon will be under the microscope in his third year. After a successful rookie year, his second season was a disappointment. Jennifer Lee Chan of NBC Sports caught up with Witherspoon to talk about what he needs to do to improve as a player, and much more.
Witherspoon explained what he has been focusing on this offseason. One thing is clear; he’s very confident in his physical abilities:
“Just technique. When you have the skill that I do, the ability that I do, you tend to get away from technique just because you’re physically gifted. And this league demands that you’re technical at all times, or else you will be exposed.”
Physically, Witherspoon has all the tools necessary to be successful. The problem with that is the majority of players in the NFL do. The subtle details will be essential for Witherspoon. Like being able to find the ball in the air, or being more patient at the line of scrimmage. If Witherspoon can improve in those two areas, we’ll see a different player in 2019.
Witherspoon mentioned how focusing on technique will give him the best opportunity to be successful, and how that will allow him to be more consistent.
2019 will be the first year where ‘Spoon has two legitimate edge rushers. For a cornerback, the simple threat of a pass-rush can be everything. It’s not just Deforest Buckner out there. Witherspoon said you’ll be able to tell the difference when the pads come on:
“They are holding onto the ball right now because they aren’t getting hit in the neck,” Witherspoon said. “It doesn’t really show up yet, but when you start watching film, that’s when you see it.”
If opposing quarterbacks had a little over three seconds to throw the ball last year, and that number comes down to 2.5 seconds, we’ll see a better version of Witherspoon. The front office elected to address the pass-rush this offseason as a priority over the secondary. Witherspoon can reward them with consistency.
In an ideal situation, Jason Verrett stays healthy, and Ahkello is the team’s Nickel cornerback. Verrett slides inside, while Witherspoon mans the outside corner position opposite of Richard Sherman. Even if he isn’t a “starter”, Witherspoon would be on the field between 75-80% of the time.