Schlereth: Why Witherspoon at nickel CB for Seahawks is a good thing

Aug 9, 2023, 10:34 AM

Seattle Seahawks Devon Witherspoon...

Seattle Seahawks CB Devon Witherspoon at the team's rookie minicamp on May 12, 2023. (Taylor Jacobs/Seattle Sports)

(Taylor Jacobs/Seattle Sports)

Mark Schlereth, a longtime NFL on FOX analyst and former offensive lineman, was at Seattle Seahawks training camp on Monday, a few weeks before he calls the team’s third and final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

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As part of his prep for covering the Seahawks, the team sent Schlereth some media stories about the team, and one storyline stood out to him above the rest, as he explained Monday afternoon to Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob.

That story? That No. 5 overall pick Devon Witherspoon has been seeing the bulk of his playing time at nickel cornerback rather than outside corner.

“People (are) kind of complaining about Witherspoon and the fact that you draft him as an outside guy and he’s playing nickel,” Schlereth said, “but what a great problem to have.”

Schlereth has called NFL games on FOX for a long time, and he talks to many coaches across the league as a result. He said that the consensus right now is that nickel cornerback is the hardest position to play defensively. Additionally, NFL defenses typically now have a nickel corner or fifth defensive back as part of their base defensive look because of how the league is more tailored to the passing game on offense.

“You’re essentially replacing the weakside linebacker, the WILL, so you have got to be a force player,” Schlereth said. “You’ve got to have your run fits, you’ve got to know exactly what you’re doing, you’ve got to be able to read the tight ends, you’ve got to be able to read the (offensive) tackles and what they’re doing, you’ve got to be able to do all those things. You’ve got to be able to understand kind of drops and spatial awareness and in zone coverage stuff, and then you’ve got to play man and you’ve got to be able to have a two-way go. You don’t have the sideline to force a guy out (of bounds) and use that space, that boundary, as an extra defender.”

Schlereth said that in talking to offensive coordinators, he’s learned that they look immediately to who is at nickel and whether they can exploit them in either the run or pass game.

“And so when I keep reading these articles like, ‘What’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘What a great problem to have,'” Schlereth said. “All of a sudden we got a little cat that’s 185 pounds and isn’t afraid to hit people and has great instincts in run support stuff and can cover man? What a find that is.”

Listen to Schlereth’s conversation with Wyman and Bob at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

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Schlereth: Why Witherspoon at nickel CB for Seahawks is a good thing