RENTON, Wash. - While it may not have been the position most expected top Seattle Seahawks pick Devon Witherspoon to line up in when he was selected in this spring's NFL Draft, the nickel position appears to suit the rookie cornerback just fine.
Witherspoon has spent the majority of his time in training camp playing the nickel spot as he assimilates into the Seahawks' defense. While it's a new role for him, it's actually a spot Witherspoon has taken a liking to rather quickly.
"It plays to my game a good amount, and it plays well to our defense the way that we run it," Witherspoon said.
With Mike Jackson and Tre Brown having strong training camps as well and Riq (formerly Tariq) Woolen set to get more involved after coming off the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks might have the most secondary depth they've had since the early Legion of Boom years. That's not to say the pieces now in place have that type of ceiling because Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are all franchise icon talents. But that depth has given Seattle the flexibility to explore Witherspoon's fit in the slot in the meantime.
"There’s so many more assignments that are intricate to the running game that aren’t part of the corner position," Carroll said. "Being in an area where he gets to pressure as well. He’s got blitz pick up stuff. He’s got all kinds of things that he has to do. I’m telling you it’s not hard for him. It’s easy for him to learn the stuff. He’s going to be able to get it down and that’s not going to be the concern. It’s just which is the best mix and combination for us.,"
Despite being a tad bit undersized at 6-foot and 185 pounds, Witherspoon isn't shy at being physical and has a willingness to tackle. That skill set is far more necessary when it comes to playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
"A nickel especially in the NFL, a lot of teams want to run the ball to the nickel so he’s been approaching it like a linebacker actually," Woolen said of Witherspoon. "He’s going there, sticking his nose in there and getting dirty, making plays and he likes to hit."
Witherspoon said the coaching staff approached him about trying the nickel spot and he was open to giving the position a shot. With top receivers called upon to line up in the slot more often nowadays as well, the ability to cover a player from that alignment is a positive for a cornerback's repertoire anyway.
"Outside, you are kind of on an island. You get the bigger type of receivers. In the slot, you get the shiftier guys and get to be in the run fit a little bit more. In the league, they move their top guys to the slot as well. You get a lot of good reps at both," Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon's feistiness is apparent on the practice fields. He's outwardly celebrating successful plays while also reacting to those that don't go his way.
"I love the spirit and the energy that he brings playing this game," defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said. "It’s infectious. With that young kid, that’s just how he is all the time. That is something that everybody else will build off of."
He's also more than willing to lay a hit, which was evidenced by a tackle of Dee Eskridge in practice last week.
"It’s part of my game that people should realize that I bring to the table," Witherspoon said. "I’m kind of undersized but I just don’t want people to underestimate me thinking ‘Oh he's not that big so he won't hit you.’ That’s a lie. I just try to be as physical as I can be and want to bring a lot of juice."
Playing inside comes with greater responsibilities in the running game as well.
"There’s so many more assignments that are intricate to the running game that aren’t part of the corner position," Carroll said. "Being in an area where he gets to pressure as well. He’s got blitz pick up stuff. He’s got all kinds of things that he has to do. I’m telling you it’s not hard for him. It’s easy for him to learn the stuff. He’s going to be able to get it down and that’s not going to be the concern. It’s just which is the best mix and combination for us.
Witherspoon missed the first two days of training camp in a minor contract dispute with the team. He was the last rookie from this year's draft class across the entire NFL to sign their contract before reporting.
"It was just a couple of business days we had to handle on the business side. It was nothing crazy," Witherspoon said.
"They welcomed me (back) with open arms. It was nothing personal. I was really happy to be back with the guys. How we interact with each other in the locker room is genuine. I was happy to be back."
While Witherspoon sat out a portion of practice on Monday with a possible injury, he's already made a strong impression about the type of player he could be for the Seahawks.
"He’s a natural football player and I say that 'cause he’s really instinctive. He does things kind of naturally right," Carroll said.
"He’s aggressive, he’s a playmaker, he’s looking for plays to make and it’s a good spot for him in that regard. So we will see how that goes."
– Safety Joey Blount was carted off the practice fields midway through Monday's practice. After Lance Boykin broke up a pass for Jake Bobo in the end zone, Blount tried to make a play on the deflected ball and appeared to injure himself in the process.
Head coach Pete Carroll did not speak to reporters on Monday, so there's no update on Blount's status. He did not return to practice.
– Defensive end Dre'Mont Jones appeared to be a full-go at practice after sitting out the end of Sunday's session with a toe injury.
– In addition to the four players that remain on the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks had nine players sit out Monday's practice: CB Riq Woolen. DT Myles Adams, OLB Darrell Taylor, OLB Joshua Onujiogu, RB Ken Walker III, RB Kenny McIntosh, TE Griffin Hebert, WR Tyler Lockett and WR Dareke Young.
Woolen is being eased back into practice after coming off the PUP list on Sunday. Taylor is still recovered from a shoulder sprain sustained in practice last week. Walker is still nursing a minor groin strain. McIntosh sprained his knee in Friday's "mock game" scrimmage, but isn't expected to miss significant time. Lockett had some tightness in his hamstring Carroll said on Friday night and has been limited. Young is sitting out with a hip/groin injury.
Adams, Onujiogu and Hebert's injury concerns are not disclosed.
Safety Jamal Adams, linebacker Jordyn Brooks, and nose tackles Bryan Mone and Austin Faoliu remain on PUP.