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First-Round Picks Devon Witherspoon & Jaxon Smith-Njigba Battling In Practice "Really An Ideal Situation" For Seahawks.

Seahawks rookies Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba discuss their first NFL training camp, competing with each other and more.


Late in Thursday's practice with the No. 1 offense facing the No. 1 defense in a red zone drill, Geno Smith rolled to his right, looking to find rookie receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the back of the end zone.

Unfortunately for Smith and the offense, however, Witherspoon was all over his fellow rookie in coverage, so Smith had to throw the ball away.

The Seahawks used a pair of first-round picks in the 2023 draft to make Witherspoon and Smith-Njigba the first players selected at their respective positions, and a week into their first NFL training camp, both have shown why the Seahawks thought so highly of them as prospects.

And as rare as it is for a team to have two first-round picks, it's even more unusual that they happen to play positions where they line up against each other so often, leading to some great battles.

"It's an unusual situation that we have, but it's really fun to watch," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "They're both really competitive, and they're going to keep logging reps—I'm sure they're keeping count of how they're doing, who's winning and losing—it's really an ideal situation for us."

Each player has had good moments about the other, and each has shown exactly why they were so highly regarded coming out of college. And both agree they're benefiting from competing head-to-head with each other.

"It's good," Smith-Njigba said. "It's not easy. The first day we stepped on the field, I knew it wasn't going to be easy battling him. We've only made each other better. I'm grateful that we have those battles, and the best is yet to come from both of us."

Witherspoon, meanwhile, feels like he's learning a lot facing off against not just his fellow first-round pick, but also veteran receivers like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

"It's been fun having these veteran guys on our team," he said. "Tyler Lockett, he's so shifty. He's one of the most underrated receivers in the league. His talent can shock you by surprise, but if you know what you're going against, that's just him. We got DK, the bigger receiver, he's going to give you everything you want. You have to compete really well against him. Jaxon is a more shifty guy in the slot. He's going to give you everything you need and want to see before the season hits. We kind of get a jack-of-all-trades with our receivers, so you see it all. When the season hits, you're going to see all types of game."

For Witherspoon, this has been a particularly intriguing camp because of the amount of work he is doing at the nickel spot. Mostly an outside cornerback at Illinois, it was assumed by most that he would play there in the NFL as well, and while that very well could end up being the case, the Seahawks are for now getting a look at him in multiple roles.

"He's right in the battle," Carroll said of the nickel spot. "We're just logging reps right now. Tre Brown and Mike (Jackson) have done really well. Tre's had a terrific first week."

While outside cornerbacks tend to get more attention and accolades, the nickel spot, which is more or less a starting job in today's NFL, might be more challenging given the multitude of assignments that come with the job.

"There's a lot of stuff to it," Carroll said. "There are so many more assignments that are intricate to the run game that aren't part of the corner position. Being in an area that he's able to pressure as well… It's not hard for him. It's easy for him to learn the stuff."

Given Witherspoon's aggressive style and football instincts—Carroll compared him to Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu after the draft—nickel might actually be the best position to get the most out of his abilities, but the other reason he's working inside is the number of quality cornerbacks the Seahawks have battling for spots.

"It's just what's the best mix and combination for us," Carroll said.

Witherspoon said the transition to nickel is "going smooth" despite limited experience there in college.

"It was an easy transition once I got it down pat," he said. "Just keep getting a lot of reps at nickel, and then just kind of slow it down, bring it to your speed of the game. It's a real easy transition, especially in our defense."

As for which position he'd rather play, Witherspoon is happy to line up where he asked to by coaches.

"I don't really have a preference," he said. "Whatever coach needs me to do I'll go do it.

"I'd be totally awesome with that. Nickel is a lot of fun. We just go out there and compete in the back end. We're kind of all interchangeable. No one has one specific spot. We kind of all know the back end."

With the 2023 Training Camp underway, take a look back at some of your favorite Seahawks in their first NFL Training Camps.

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