With Seahawks training camp kicking off next week, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2023 season. So far we've looked at special teams, tight end, the defensive line, running back, linebacker, the offensive line and receiver, and today we look at the competition at cornerback. Check back tomorrow when we look at quarterback as Geno Smith prepares to follow up on a Pro Bowl season.
Key Cornerback Additions: Devon Witherspoon (draft).
Key Cornerback Departures: None
When the Seahawks selected Devon Witherspoon with the fifth pick in the 2023 draft, it was easy to assume that the University of Illinois All-American cornerback would slide right into the starting role opposite 2022 Pro-Bowler Riq Woolen.
And while that very well could end up being what happens, Seattle's offseason workouts showed that the Seahawks are far from settled at cornerback. That's not to say they don't love their options at corner, but rather it's just too early to make any assumptions on who will end up playing where.
Yes, Woolen seems all but a lock to start at right cornerback after earning Pro-Bowl honors and tying for the NFL lead in interceptions as a rookie, but if Witherspoon is indeed going to take over the starting job on the left side, he'll have to beat out a motivated Michael Jackson, who is coming off a standout offseason following his first season as a starter.
"Michael Jackson's had the best camp of anybody," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said following last month's minicamp. "He had a great camp, and he's stepped up for the challenge of it, had just a really productive, almost a dominant camp for us, and so that was great to see that. We need it… His confidence is really at all-time high for him."
With Woolen missing time due to a knee injury—he's expected to be back for training camp—Jackson saw time at both left and right cornerback, and perhaps most intriguing, the Seahawks also used Devon Witherspoon at nickel corner in addition to him playing outside. The offseason is the time of year when coaches can tinker with different things, and last year's nickel corner, Coby Bryant, missed time with a toe injury, so people probably shouldn't read too much in to Witherspoon playing that spot just yet, but the fact that he is even getting a look there opens up some interesting possibilities.
Could the Seahawks decide that their best three-cornerback combination—nickel corner is almost a starting role in today's NFL—is Woolen and Jackson outside and Witherspoon at nickel? Could Witherspoon, a player Carroll compared to Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu, have a bigger impact playing in the middle of the field as a nickel back, and if so, could he still be an every down player by playing outside in base defense and nickel when the Seahawks bring an extra corner into the game? Or does Bryant, who showed a real knack for playmaking as a rookie, step right back into his nickel role and hold off all challengers? And could Tre Brown, who won a starting job as a rookie in 2021 prior to a season-ending knee injury, work his way back into the competition?
"Oh, yeah, my wheels are turning," Carroll said when asked about the options at cornerback. "Yes, they've been turning, they aren't going to stop either. It doesn't matter how long a vacation this is, they aren't stopping. This is really exciting. The dimensions that we have at the safety position, really, really special, and with depth because Tre Brown did really well in this camp as well, and so with the depth of Mike and Spoon and Riq and Tre, that's a good group. Coby's got stuff to do for us too, so it's going to be a real battle in camp, and I hope everybody stays healthy so they can put their best foot forward and all of that."
All of those options mean it's not clear what the Seahawks will look like at cornerback when the season begins in September, but with so many quality options, that uncertainty is anything but a problem.
"This is as competitive as we've been in a long time, and we expect to call on those guys," Carroll said. "They're going to be covering people, they're going to be working hard, they're going to be in matchups and doing all the press stuff that we work so hard at and all that. These guys, they're going to bring it, and we'll see how much we can utilize it. But it's an area that I'm really fired up about."As for experimenting with Witherspoon at nickel, Carroll said, "He's capable of playing in there. Coby Bryant was banged up with a toe thing that he had to take care of, so it gave us the opportunity to take a look at Spoon inside. So I talked to him about it way back when and he was all excited about it. He said, 'I can learn it all, I can get it,' and he's really positive about it. So when we gave him the chance, he jumped right on it. He is a really good football learner, he gets it, man. And it makes sense to him, and he does things naturally really well, and that expedites the process. This will be really good film again today to check him out, but we've seen him look pretty much in charge of the position, so we'll see how it goes… We've seen him play on the slots, and it doesn't matter who he was playing, he covered everybody. So he's a special cover guy. His quickness and his instincts and all really lend to he could be an effective player there."
Take a look at photos of cornerback Devon Witherspoon during his four years at Illinois. Witherspoon, a consensus All-American and Big Ten Tatum–Woodson Defensive Back of the Year in 2022, was selected by the Seahawks with the 5th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.