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2021 Offseason Questions: What Will Ahkello Witherspoon’s Role Be?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?

These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.

Question: What will Ahkello Witherspoon’s role be in the Steelers’ defense this season?

You’ve read by now, no doubt, that general manager Kevin Colbert and the Steelers pulled out yet another move prior to the start of the regular season. They’ve sent a 2023 fifth-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Exactly what his role will be is yet to be determined.

Primarily an outside cornerback, Witherspoon has logged over 2,200 snaps during his first four seasons in the league for the San Francisco 49ers before signing a one-year, $4 million contract with Seattle (of which the Seahawks are on the hook for the full value of a $2.5 million signing bonus).

It should be noted that the Steelers have made late additions via trade to the cornerback room in the past with no immediate plan about how to use them. They traded for Brandon Boykin for a fifth-round pick in 2015. He totaled 22 defensive snaps prior to Week 13. Justin Gilbert was acquired a year later for a sixth-round pick. He played 11 defensive snaps.

In other words, this addition doesn’t necessarily mean it will change the starting lineup. But it could, of course. Cameron Sutton is certainly not a proven full-time starter, and obviously, neither is James Pierre, no matter how much they talk about how great he looks in practice and the preseason.

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