While the Pittsburgh Steelers were down one starting cornerback today in Levi Wallace, they got another one back from a prolonged injury. Ahkello Witherspoon stepped onto the field in Philadelphia for the first time in a month, but perhaps wishes that he hadn’t.
It was a rough first half for him on his way back from a hamstring injury that had him sidelined. Working primarily against A.J. Brown, he was beaten over the top multiple times for multiple touchdowns, despite the fact that he was occasionally in good position. So was he even healthy, or was he still affected by that injury?
“No, there’s no excuses regarding the play that we put out there, whether it’s us as an individual or us as a collective”, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game when asked if Witherspoon was limited in any way by his injury. “I wouldn’t have put him on the field if he wasn’t ready to go”.
The question was posed, perhaps, at least in part due to the fact that he was benched in favor of James Pierre after those first-half touchdowns by Brown. It’s not the first time in Witherspoon’s career that he has been benched or demoted.
Could it simply be that he is rusty after such a long layover due to the recovery time that it took to get back from that hamstring injury? Perhaps. But he wasn’t playing very well even in the early portions of the season for which he was healthy.
Originally acquired just ahead of the start of the regular season last year, Witherspoon sat on the bench for most of the first half of the year as depth, but when injuries presented an opportunity, he performed at a high level once he got on to the field.
His level of play was high enough that the Steelers re-signed him on a two-year deal, and he won the starting job versus their other cornerback signing, Wallace, with Cameron Sutton starting opposite him. When healthy, however, they all play, with Sutton in the slot.
The Steelers now head into their bye hoping to get everybody healthy, and then they’ll have to figure out who plays where. Pierre actually left the game late with a foot injury, the severity of which Tomlin had no details on at this point.
Of course, edge rusher T.J. Watt is the return everybody is waiting for. One can only hope that his welcome return will do more to help the secondary than anything else. The defense has struggled to put consistent pressure on the quarterback since his pectoral injury back in Week 1 that has had him sidelined.