It wasn’t surprising to see the Pittsburgh Steelers add a cornerback. It was, though, a little surprising to see them trade for one, given their limited draft capital. And I don’t think anyone saw Ahkello Witherspoon walking through Pittsburgh’s doors. But on Friday, the trade was announced, the Steelers sending a 2023 fifth-round pick to Seattle.
During his Tuesday press conference, Mike Tomlin explained why the Steelers made the deal.
“We just wanted to add to our outside corner depth,” he said via the team’s YouTube channel. “It provides versatility for us. Like we were mentioning, talking about Cam Sutton and his ability to move inside. Capable outside guys, having enough depth at that position aids us in that regard.”
Witherspoon has been a long, press outside cornerback his entire career and that won’t change in Pittsburgh. But playing in Pittsburgh might be the best home for him as Witherspoon alluded to reporters yesterday. The Steelers play more man coverage than his previous two stops, San Francisco and Seattle, and Witherspoon has always been best as a man corner, able to use his unique size and athleticism to cover and play the ball in the air.
Traded just more than a week before the season began, Tomlin didn’t rule out Witherspoon dressing for the opener against Buffalo on Sunday.
“We’re going to determine that. I don’t have the answer to that as we sit here right now, I think the quality of his work over the next several days will determine that. It’s reasonable to expect him to learn it. We’ve seen that particularly at that position in recent years.
“Ross Cockrell was able to come in here a number of years ago and be ready in a week’s preparation. Joe Haden when he came here a number of years ago, I think he met us in Carolina and essentially had a weeks preparation. So particularly from a veteran player standpoint, a guy who has been in some systems and been around some NFL football, it’s not unreasonable to expect those guys to be ready from an assignment standpoint.”
Keith Butler and company have always focused their defense on playing simple and playing fast, allowing new faces to quickly pick up the playbook. Should Witherspoon dress, it’s a little unclear what his role will be. Given James Pierre’s strong summer performance, it’s hard to see a late add like Witherspoon work over him on defense. In all likelihood, Witherspoon will serve as a backup outside cornerback and help out on special teams.