How will Riq Woolen fare in ‘ferocious’ Seahawks cornerback battle?

May 9, 2024, 9:51 AM

Seattle Seahawks Riq Woolen Bengals 2023...

Riq Woolen of the Seattle Seahawks defends a pass against the Bengals in 2023. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Third-year cornerback Riq Woolen could be one of the most interesting players to watch on the Seattle Seahawks this season.

Huard explains why Seahawks drafted two cornerbacks

As a fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Texas-San Antonio in 2022, Woolen burst onto the scene with a sensational rookie campaign. With a rare combination of speed, length and athleticism, the 6-foot-4 Woolen tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions that season and finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

However, Woolen took a step back last year and was ultimately benched for Seattle’s Week 15 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The biggest issue was his tackling, as he finished with a 20% missed tackle rate, according to Pro Football Focus. He received a dismal 37.3 run defense grade from PFF, which ranked No. 210 out of 229 qualified cornerbacks in the league.

Woolen has a chance to bounce back this season under a new coaching staff, led by first-year defensive-minded head coach Mike Macdonald. But he also could face stiffer competition for playing time. The Seahawks drafted Auburn cornerbacks Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James in the fifth and sixth rounds of the NFL Draft last month, adding two more names to a position group that was seemingly already one of the deepest on the team.

After last year’s sophomore slump and with added competition at cornerback, will Woolen have to fight for his starting job this summer? That question was posed to former NFL quarterback Brock Huard during Wednesday’s edition of Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk.

“Oh, I think 100%,” Huard said. “You’ve got a whole new set of eyes that’s looking at it like, ‘Yeah, you were almost Defensive Rookie of the Year your first year, but second year, man, this is some hard tape to watch.’ I mean, it was really hard. It got so bad. And (former Seahawks coach Pete Carroll) never ever, ever threw anybody under the bus, but it got to a point where … they benched him at the end of the year, right?

“When you don’t come up and hit, when you don’t come up and do your job, when you don’t come up and play your responsibility in the run game physically, after what the (Legion of Boom) built here? You’re gonna get no grace. You may be able to do that in other cities and other places, but not in this one. Not with these fans who saw a standard set. And in this system, in Mike Macdonald’s man-to-man system, you better come up and hit. That will be the most competitive position on the team. … It’s gonna be just a ferocious competition.”

During Tuesday’s edition of Brock and Salk, Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson joined the show and gave some insight into Woolen’s struggles last season.

“If you talk to people in the building,” Henderson said, “I think there’s a thought that he just didn’t really handle the success that he had as a rookie as well as he needed to and maybe he got a little bit complacent, and that was maybe part of the up-and-down nature of last season.”

Huard thinks the new coaching staff and cornerback competition will be good for Woolen.

“When a new boss is in place, you’re going to see some pretty ferocious competition, and Riq’s going to have to rise to it,” Huard said. “We’re going to learn an awful lot, because the skill set’s unique. The speed is off the charts. The length is tremendous. But the competitive grit, will and violence is going to have to be there on a daily basis for him to say, ‘Yep, I’m back to being that guy I was my rookie year.’

“That’s what was so frustrating about Riq,” Huard added. “To come in and do what he did (as a rookie) and take the ball away and jump those routes and play it with an instinct, you’re like, ‘Man, this is really rare. This guy’s got instinctive ball skills. And with his physical traits, this guy’s got a chance to be the next Richard Sherman.’ And to see that step back last year – that I think had a lot more to do with just a physical will and want to, and not an instinct? As I said, that’s gonna come to life and this staff is gonna breathe that fire into him.”

Listen to the full conversation from Wednesday’s Brock and Salk in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post. Tune in to Brock and Salk weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

More Seattle Seahawks coverage

• Bump: Why keeping CB Michael Jackson is important for Hawks
• What Huard keeps hearing about Seahawks coach Macdonald
• A rookie’s impression of Seattle Seahawks’ new coaches from UW
• What improvements Bump wants to see from Seahawks’ JSN
• How will new XFL-style kickoff rules impact Seattle Seahawks?

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