Steelers News

Opportunity To Start ‘Puts Me Back In My Comfort Zone’, Says Ahkello Witherspoon

Second-year Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback James Pierre played 14 snaps in yesterday’s game. On special teams. It was the first time all season that he failed to log even a single snap on the defensive side of the ball.

Having started the past two games due to a foot injury starter Joe Haden is dealing with, Pierre’s struggles continued, particularly in allowing the deep ball, as his tackling efficiency grows more concerning. The end result was his being demoted to the bottom of the roster, at least temporarily, as even Justin Layne played defensively ahead of him.

But it was fifth-year veteran Ahkello Witherspoon who started the game, only his fourth game active since being acquired via trade shortly before the season started. He played nearly every snap in the game, registering five tackles and a key pass defensed, feeling more comfortable in more familiar territory.

I knew I was gonna start throughout the week. Just starting and having all those reps, it kind of puts me back into my zone of being out there every single snap”, Witherspoon told reporters earlier today. “Coming in on other downs hasn’t been as routine for me, because it’s not something I did for four years”, with the 49ers.

A former third-round draft pick, Witherspoon started 34 out of 47 games played for San Francisco over the previous three seasons, though he did get demoted last year, only starting four games out of the 11 in which he played. He signed with the Seattle Seahawks this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, but they were willing to part with him for a fifth-round pick.

When first acquired, there was a good deal of debate about what his role would be as the season progressed, even if he would be in the starting lineup. Instead, he has been a healthy scratch for most of the year, due to the team’s lack of comfort with him on special teams; but he has played defensively when he has dressed, though not like yesterday.

“I was actually out there playing every snap, and just understanding the reps, learning from certain plays and stuff like that”, he said of the previous game, “it just kind of puts me back in my comfort zone. I wouldn’t say it affected my confidence, but just understanding that if I make a mistake, it’s time to take note of it and correct it and just kind of have that game flow, and that’s always something that you love as a corner, especially in this league with how challenging it is”.

Witherspoon’s first playing time came in Week 2, logging just four snaps, but he helped surrender a long touchdown to Henry Ruggs. He did not dress again until Week 11, but he has now dressed three games in a row due to Haden’s injury.

With the veteran likely out for Thursday’s game, the plan is presumably for Witherspoon to continue to start. The question is, when Haden gets back, whether he will continue to dress as the top backup outside cornerback.

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