49ers CB Witherspoon on idol Richard Sherman: ’We understand each other on a different level’
The 49ers defensive backs are developing a Seattle Seahawk-like sense of camaraderie and competition. To see it, you merely need to stop by the Go-Kart track on a Saturday night.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon on Tuesday recounted the dramatic tale of one of their races, one in which he was leading his teammates by a good seven seconds. The problem was that he was so fast that he was in position to lap the straggler, cornerback Trovon Reed, but Reed wouldn't let him past.
That's when the wily veteran, Richard Sherman, made his move.
"So I'm yelling at Trovon, 'Move! Move!' because I see Sherm slowly catching up," Witherspoon said. "If he had let me pass him I would have won. (But) Sherm comes up, bumps us, we spin out. I stayed in second because I bumped Trovon again. But I was just mad (Sherman) got the win."
The story offers a glimpse of an offseason that's been full of dinners, bowling competitions, Warriors basketball games and other outings, most of them on the tab of Sherman, who only turned 30 a month and a half ago but who is very much the elder statesman of the inexperienced group.
Sherman is recovering from Achilles surgery and won't be able to join practices until the start of training camp. But he was still active and vocal during Tuesday's practice, walking onto the field as if he was an assistant coach and offering instructions and congratulations to his teammates.
Witherspoon said that the unit began to come together last year, especially as the 49ers went on a five-game tear to end the season. His position coach, Jeff Hafley, said he wanted them to become even closer in the offseason, and the addition of Sherman – gregarious, charismatic and ultra competitive – has made that happen.
Witherspoon noted that Sherman enjoyed strong relationships with Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and other members of the Seahawks secondary when he was with Seattle and wants to build something similar – and similarly successful – in Santa Clara.
"I think Seattle – that's what they had that was so special," Witherspoon said. "It was such a close group. So he comes here and he understands that that kind of relationship between players is what builds champions. And that's what we're trying to obtain."
Others also have been struck by a sense of togetherness inside the 49ers locker room.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo noted how quickly he was embraced when he arrived in October and center Weston Richburg said he's already felt that camaraderie despite only arriving in March. He described his new team as having a college-like atmosphere, something that is rare in professional sports.
“It’s new to me seeing teammates hang out like that all the time off the field. It’s really cool,” said Richburg, who spent his first five years in the league with the New York Giants. “They do a really good job here creating that family atmosphere.”
Garoppolo organizes Saturday throwing sessions with the 49ers' skill players and even has invited Richburg to come along and serve as the snapper. He did, once, but despite all the conviviality, he said he might keep it at that one experience.
"I don't know if I'll go back though," he said with a smile. "It wasn't very fun."