We know that the Pittsburgh Steelers traded for cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon last week. We know that he is an outside corner, and he confirmed today that he played on both sides. We don’t know a lot more than that, right now. When asked if he received more work beyond the ‘look’ team (that is, the scout team), he deferred to the coaches.
Was he brought in to start, or to be in the nickel? Was he brought in as depth? Or simply to figure it all out as they go along? One thing we do know is that the Steelers are preparing him to be ready to play next week, whether he does or not.
“Honestly, the way we’re talking about it is just simple stuff to keep my brain free”, he said about whether or not he has to cram to get the defense down, “because a busy brain is going to slow me down on the field. I’m just taking it day by day. I’m very good at retaining information as well, so once I get more comfortable, I’m going to just keep adding more to the book”.
The Steelers are not unfamiliar with this scenario. They traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick between weeks two and three of the 2019 season, and he started the very next game. In 2017, after signing Joe Haden at the end of August, he started on September 10.
Witherspoon is a fifth-year veteran with dozens of starts under his belt, as well. He also has experience learning multiple defenses over the course of his career, which should aid him in this current transition. The fact that the Steelers play a lot of man coverage, which is his preference, will help them simplify his role.
Whatever that might be. Cameron Sutton is still listed as the starter at cornerback opposite Haden, with James Pierre and Justin Layne on the second team, and Witherspoon behind them. (Arthur Maulet’s name is conspicuously absent after they failed to carry over the ‘Slot’ starting role from the preseason depth chart).
Witherspoon is the second-most experienced defensive back on the roster right now behind Haden, the 12th-year veteran, coming into the league the same year as Sutton, but having logged more playing time on the field. If needed, he will be ready to play in Buffalo, I’m sure.
We may not know until Sunday, however, exactly what his role is. Will he play ahead of Pierre, the second-year cornerback who has become a fan favorite, but who is extremely inexperienced? The coaches aren’t saying how they’re lining up in practice.