One of the first skills one should expect to learn when joining the Pittsburgh Steelers is how to answer questions in front of the media—or rather, perhaps, how to not answer them. Head coach Mike Tomlin has become a master of answering questions by not answering them, though more recently, he has been more direct about his non-answers, to the point where actual answers are met with surprise, in which he takes a certain glee.
He doesn’t do it just because he enjoys it (although I suspect he does), but also because he understands that it serves the team no benefit to put information out there that isn’t necessary that can be used by opponents. Like, for example, what the team’s plan is for cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
“I don’t think that’s my business. I just get whatever the coaches tell me to do”, the newly-acquired defensive back told reporters yesterday when he was asked if he got anything other than scout-team reps in his first practice.
He did allow that he received a lot of reps, but would not detail their nature. More directly, the fifth-year veteran was asked whether or not he expected to be active for the Steelers in the regular-season opener on Sunday. “We will see. Both of us”, he said.
The thing is, it’s entirely possible that he’s not playing coy. While the Steelers gave up a fifth-round pick (in 2023) in order to bring him in, and are paying him $1.5 million, the reality is that is not a major investment. It’s the same price they’ve paid for Chris Wormley and Nick Vannett, Avery Williamson and Brandon Boykin.
Witherspoon has started 33 games in his career, the second-most of all cornerbacks on the Steelers’ roster behind only Joe Haden, but that doesn’t mean that he is going to play ahead of Cameron Sutton, or even James Pierre. He might, be we don’t know that right now.
He might not know that right now. The coaches may not even have a specific plan, or defined hopes for him. Most likely, they just saw a lack of depth at the cornerback position and an opportunity to make an upgrade, however it ends up playing out.
The Steelers signed Ross Cockrell to their 53-man roster on cutdown day in 2015, almost a week after he was released, as a former fourth-round pick heading into his second season, by the Buffalo Bills. They didn’t know who he would be when they brought him in, but he quickly became a significant contributor and eventually a starter.
Witherspoon could have a similar impact. Or, like Boykin, he could spend most of the season on the bench until they have no other options. Or, like 2016 trade acquisition Justin Gilbert, he could play a dozen snaps on defense and spend the rest of his time on special teams.