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‘Professional, Detailed, And Hardworking’ Ahkello Witherspoon Thriving With Playing Time, Mike Tomlin Says

For months, at least on the surface, the decision by Pittsburgh Steelers’ General Manager Kevin Colbert to trade a 2022 fifth round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for veteran cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon appeared to be a tough swing and miss and a burning of a much-needed draft pick.

The last month or so though, that’s looked incredibly foolish to have once believed that as Witherspoon was able to work his way into the lineup due to injuries and has thrived, quickly becoming a lockdown cornerback for the Steelers down the stretch, likely earning himself a big payday this offseason, whether that’s in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.

On Monday night against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, Witherspoon made a big play on the Browns’ fifth drive of the game, undercutting an out route and picking off Baker Mayfield, setting up an eventual 22-yard Chris Boswell field goal, pushing the Steelers’ lead to 10-0. After that interception, Witherspoon defended two more passes for the Steelers’ defense, taking away any semblance of a passing game when targeted.

His play has generated quite the buzz, which Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin has noticed. During his weekly Mike Tomlin Show presented by 84 Lumber on Saturday, Tomlin praised the veteran cornerback for his professionalism, attention to detail and overall work ethic as key reasons for his run of success as of late.

“Really it’s just been opportunity for him. He’s been very professional and detailed and hardworking since we acquired him,” Tomlin said, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “He got on a moving train and oftentimes you gotta wait your turn and wait for an opportunity. He wasn’t a highly accomplished special teams player, so that made it more difficult for him to work his way through the ranks, if you will, because special teams is often a catalyst for guys rising up.

“He was a known commodity as a defender, and when we had an opportunity to get him in a helmet as a defender — I think Joe Haden or somebody missed a game or two — that allowed him to get the footing and produce the plays that you see and allowed us to commit to him, giving him a helmet and having him be a part of our process. Man, he’s been highly productive and highly professional since the day we acquired him.”

Witherspoon was inserted into the starting lineup ahead of the Week 11 matchup on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers, a game in which he struggled a bit in a 41-37 Steelers’ loss. After that game though, Witherspoon has been rock solid. 

The veteran broke up a pass in the Steelers’ loss to the Bengals, then recorded five tackles and a key pass breakup in the 20-19 win over the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. That game seems to be the catalyst for his rise as following the strong showing in AFC North play, Witherspoon proceeded to pick off two passes against the Minnesota Vikings, shut down the Tennessee Titans’ passing attack at Heinz Field, broke up a pass in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on the road, and then picked off Mayfield Monday night.

It’s worth noting too, that even with the return of Haden in recent weeks, Witherspoon continues to get some run, especially in Nickel and Dime packages, which is a change from the Steelers’ perspective.

Witherspoon will hit the open market following the completion of the 2021 season, but with his strong play as of late, the Steelers should make sure that the veteran does not hit the open market. After making just $1.25 million this season, it’s safe to assume a sizable increase in pay is looming for Witherspoon. Based on his play down the stretch, hopefully that’s in Pittsburgh.

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