San Francisco 49ers

‘Who better to learn from?’ CB Ahkello Witherspoon excited over 49ers’ new addition

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) signals during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif.
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) signals during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. AP

The person most excited about Richard Sherman's arrival with the 49ers may be the 22-year-old cornerback expected to start on the other side of the defense this season.

You see, Ahkello Witherspoon is a bit of a Sherman scholar. He began looking at the veteran's film before his junior season at Colorado after coaches and advisers suggested he watch a similarly tall and long-limbed cornerback work his craft.

But he really started paying attention prior to his senior season with the Buffaloes, which coincided with his biggest leap as a player.

Witherspoon worked that summer with Ron Allen, one of Sherman's offseason trainers, on his footwork and other technical skills that tall cornerbacks must master. He also asked himself why Sherman is consistently the top press cornerback in the league.

"I tried to focus on what makes him successful," said Witherspoon, a third-round pick last year. "Because he does what he does very well."

Three things jumped out:

1. Sherman is consistent about getting his head around when a ball is in the air, which leads to a lot of interceptions – 32 in 6 1/2 seasons – and batted passes.

2. He's excellent at pressing receivers and still staying on top of them in their routes.

3. He seems to know which routes are coming based on how a receiver releases from the line of scrimmage.

"So if he gets an inside release, he knows it's only going to be a few routes," Witherspoon said. "He understands what routes he's getting. That's experience. And it's understanding just how a team wants to attack you."

It's that graduate-level type of knowledge that the cerebral Witherspoon most looks forward to receiving in the defensive back meeting room this season.

"That's where I try to find an edge in the game – the mental aspect," he said. "Who better to learn how to improve that part of my game from than Richard Sherman? … I think he focuses in a big way on his mental approach to the game and how he prepares and how he sees the game. And I think that's what's important to my game as well. So I just want to learn from that."

Said Sherman when asked about Witherspoon: "He was a guy who came out with similar measurables to me – you know, height, weight, all the things like that. I think he's a heck of a player."

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