Huard: Why Seahawks’ Woolen, Bryant are in ‘sophomore slumps’

Dec 20, 2023, 11:34 AM

Seattle Seahawks Riq Woolen...

Riq Woolen of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates on Oct. 29, 2023. (Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

(Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks got major contributions from their rookie class last season en route to a playoff appearance, and two Day 3 picks in the secondary were a big reason why.

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Seattle used fourth- and fifth-round picks on defensive backs, taking Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant and UTSA’s Riq Woolen.

Both were great as rookies, with Woolen picking off six passes and making the Pro Bowl while Bryant thrived at nickel and forced four fumbles and picked up two sacks.

But 2023 has not been kind to either as Woolen didn’t start on Monday against Philadelphia while Bryant had a stint on injured reserve and now that he’s healthy is rarely playing on defense.

“There’s a term for a reason,” former NFL quarterback Brock Huard said during Wednesday’s Brock and Salk on Seattle Sports. “… And we’ve talked about it before and that is called a ‘sophomore slump.’ And a sophomore slump is there not only for college but for pro and for all sports for a reason, because players have done it. Players have come out as freshmen, players that come out in their first year and just like so overwhelmed expectations have been so much better than anybody would have ever anticipated. And I think you put Coby and Riq on that list last year.”

Huard called Woolen and Bryant “extraordinary” as rookies. That’s not the case in 2023, though.

“To think that they would both fall off to this degree? Well, I think there’s a couple factors,” Huard said.

The first is injury, as neither have been healthy since last season ended.

“You don’t play at that level and then all of a sudden struggle, the way that guys do without something behind the scenes going on. And more often than not, it’s injury. And for both of those guys, it was,” Huard said. “For Woolen, it cut out a bunch of his development in the offseason. And for Coby with the toe injury, that much more. He missed almost the entire offseason and everybody else was able to get to speed and that much more … And then when you come back from injury and you’re a young player, in Coby’s case, you’ve lost your role.”

Bryant was Seattle’s go-to guy in the slot, but that job is now Devon Witherspoon’s. Witherspoon, the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft, has played very well as a rookie.

“Spoon’s come in here and been one of the best rookies in the league and the dude is better than (Bryant) at nickel. He’s more explosive, he’s a better tackler, he’s more athletic, he’s a better cover guy,” Huard said. “And that’s hard on your confidence. It really is. And (Bryant) played some safety and preseason, so I just think there’s been a bunch of moving parts.”

With Woolen, his issue is different.

“This is a wakeup call of physicality,” Huard said.

Mike Jackson started at outside cornerback opposite Tre Brown this week due in part to their tackling and physicality. Woolen was also taken out of a game against San Francisco due to poor tackling, which Pete Carroll said was also due to a shoulder injury Woolen was dealing with.

“You’re gonna have to come up and you’re gonna have to tackle,” Huard said. “… Most of these defensive schemes today against most of these offensive that incorporate a lot more space and a lot more weapons, you’ve got to be able to come up and tackle. His physicality has got to grow.”

Listen to the full second hour of Wednesday’s Brock and Salk at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

• Wyman: Williams and Jackson were ‘unsung heroes’ for Seahawks
• Bumpus: How Seattle Seahawks limited explosive plays vs Eagles
• Huard: Grading Drew Lock’s play in Seahawks’ win over Eagles
• Seahawks Injuries: Where things stand with Geno, Adams, Witherspoon
• The Next Day: How Seattle Seahawks got big win, boosted playoff hopes

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