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Shanahan explains why Witherspoon had been a healthy scratch for the past 3 weeks

The 49ers needed help on special teams, and that’s not Witherspoon’s expertise

Miami Dolphins v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

While we discuss the future of Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, and a couple of other members of the San Francisco 49ers secondary, their third-round cornerback from the 2017 NFL Draft has been a healthy scratch for the past three weeks. Witherspoon has played 124 snaps this season, but the most reason defensive snaps against back in Week 7 against New England, and most of those when the game was well out of hand.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wouldn’t say who would fill in for Emmanuel Moseley in the slot if Moseley’s hamstring prevents him from playing against the Bills. In certain dime packages this season, ‘Spoon has played in the slot/box on defense against the Cardinals, Dolphins, and Patriots. Playing inside wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for Witherspoon. That’s not why Ahello hasn’t been playing, according to Shanahan. Here’s Kyle’s explanation for why Witherspoon has been inactive:

“Spoon has played for us. We’ve been with Spoon since our first year here and got to play a lot. Last year, I thought he played at his highest level before he got injured. Was playing very well and then when he came back, struggled to come back from that injury. Gave opportunity to some other guys, and since this camp, we started off with a competition between Spoon, Moseley, and JV. JV wasn’t quite ready to go at first, and Moseley won that position.

When you’re not out there as a starter and then when Moseley got hurt, and JV came, JV ended up being ready, and he ended up winning that. So, those two guys just went ahead of him. After that, you’ve got to make sure you put out the best special teams guys, and that wasn’t Ahkello’s best area. He’s working to get better, but that’s why we got other guys up. [CB] Ken Webster came in, did a better job for us on special teams. He got hurt. I’ve loved how Ahkello’s been in these three weeks.

I know it’s hard anytime you’re not active, but I think he’s been getting better while he hasn’t been up. His attention to detail, whether it’s on defense or special teams, has been great. Now there’s been some injuries, and so he’s going to get up. He’s always a play away from getting out there and playing more as a starter, but now we’re going to need him on special teams until that happens.

So, I’m just happy that I know it’s been hard on him, but I’m just happy how hard he’s worked, so now his time’s coming again, and I think he’s more prepared for this moment.”

Witherspoon played on five different special teams from Week 5-8. By necessity, the Niners may need Witherspoon on defense Monday night. That may be the case on special teams, too.

It was evident in training camp that there was a gap between Moseley, Verrett, and then Witherspoon. It’s impossible for us to know what led to Witherspoon’s fallout after a promising start to the 2019 season. When Shanahan said Ahkello “struggled to come back from that injury,” it could mean a handful of things. I’ll let you do the speculating. As far as whether Witherspoon would play on defense, that remains to be seen. If Witherspoon stars as the slot cornerback, he’d be responsible for guarding Cole Beasley, Stefon Diggs, and possibly being a run defender in the open field against Josh Allen.