As Tariq Woolen stopped to conduct an on-field postgame interview following the Seahawks' Week 6 win over the Cardinals, several Arizona defensive backs, including UW products Budda Baker and Byron Murphy Jr., stopped by to congratulate Seattle's rookie corner and tell them they appreciate his game.
Every week, Woolen seems to make a play for the Seahawks defense, and every week, more and more people around the league are taking notice, from opponents to teammates to his biggest Twitter cheerleader, Seahawks Legend Richard Sherman, the player two whom Woolen is most often compared due to their status as receivers-turned-cornerbacks who arrived in Seattle as fifth-round picks.
In Sunday's 19-9 win over the Cardinals, Woolen's first big play was one that got started by fellow rookie cornerback Coby Bryant, who chased down Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray after he had rushed for a first down, punching the ball loose, with Woolen recovering. It was Bryant's fourth straight game with a forced fumble, the last three of which have been recovered by the Seahawks, with Jordyn Brooks recovering one and Woolen recovering the last two.
In the fourth quarter with the Cardinals trying to cut into a 10-point lead, Murray took a shot deep to speedy receiver Marquise Brown, but Woolen was there with Brown stride for stride, going up to record his fourth interception in as many games.
Woolen became the seventh player in franchise history to record an interception in four straight games, the last being Brandon Browner in 2011, and he's the third rookie league-wide to do it since 2000. Woolen also tied Richard Sherman and John Harris for the second most interceptions by a Seahawks rookie, trailing only Michael Boulware and Earl Thomas, who both had five.
"I don't even know what to tell you about our pups, man," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of his rookie corners forcing seven turnovers in the last four weeks. "To be hawking the football like they are. What an exposition of their makeup, the way they play, their focus on the ball, their ability to make the plays when they're given the opportunities. Really, they're finding those opportunities, both Coby and Tariq. And it's just exciting to watch to and see it. I don't remember feeling like this about a young corner out there that goes week after week after week coming from where he came from and all that and to be this far along and having this much fun and success and all that. It's really fun to watch."
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Woolen has now doubled his college interception total in just six NFL games, and he's rather enjoying the frequent takeaways.
"I remember in college, my first interception, I had a broken arm—I had a whole cast and a club on—I thought, I like this feeling, I want to do it a lot more," he said. "In college, teams really didn't try me as much, but also I didn't really have as much confidence as I do now in myself. When I got the second one, I had both hands. One thing I wanted to make sure, is just to get the ball. I feel like in the NFL, it's about getting that ball out and getting it to the offense. That's one thing I've been trying to do, is to give the offense as many opportunities to score as they can."
The question now is whether or not teams will keep trying Woolen if he keeps taking the ball away, particularly on plays like Sunday's interception, which looked quite a bit like so many Richard Sherman interceptions on go-balls that were doomed the moment they left the quarterback's hand.
"I don't understand why you would try a 6-4 corner who runs a 4.2 (40-yard dash) on a go ball," safety Quandre Diggs said. "It's like, even if you try to throw a perfect ball, he's going to be right there because he's so tall, his arms are so long. He's phenomenal. He's learning the game each and every week, and I don't even think he understands what he's doing right now. You just see him, and all he does is give a thumbs up. He's just oblivious to what's going on. I'm super proud of him, him and Coby. Coby is one of those feisty guys, anyways. I try to tell him something that he doesn't like, he gets an attitude with me. I still let him know I'm the big brother, but it's cool, I'm excited about those guys' growth."
To hear Diggs and the rest of Woolen's teammates discuss the rookie's play, it's clear that he, along with Bryant, is making a very strong early impression.
"That boy's the truth, that's all I've got to say," said Poona Ford.
Added Diggs, "It's special. It's like seeing your little brother shine. For me, those are really like my little brothers. I've been super excited about both of them since the jump. Seeing them go out there and make the plays and bring that to life, you can just watch it I have a front-row seat, I'm in the back just trying to patrol, which I'm happy about being in the back, being able to see those guys. Just letting those things go. Those guys are getting after it, and they have to continue doing it. We have 17 games. We're only in Week 6. When the turnovers come, they come in bunches."
Said quarterback Geno Smith, "I faced him in camp. He gave me a couple struggles. And to see him growing and learning the game and playing above the neck, it's scary because he's got all the physical tools and, you know, Coby as well. Those guys are doing a great job at processing and taking in the coaching and the game plans and executing on Sundays. And you see it showing up. And I think those guys will continue to do that."
The biggest praise, and yes, he's getting just a bit ahead of himself, came from defensive end Quinton Jefferson, who made a rather bold proclamation about his rookie teammate.
"I'm going to call it now, he's going to be a Hall of Famer," Jefferson said. "He's a walking gold jacket. That boy came in since Day 1 making plays. I'm excited I get to play with him. I'm just excited to see what his future holds, because he's going to get a gold jacket."
And of course, Woolen was far from being the only rookie to shine in Sunday's win. In what has been one of the reoccurring themes of the 2022 season, Seattle's rookie class has been contributing in big ways, and that was never more evident than on Sunday when, in addition to Woolen's pick, the Seahawks also got a forced fumble from cornerback Coby Bryant, his fourth in as many games, the last three of which have all been recovered by the Seahawks; they got 97 yards and a touchdown out of Kenneth Walker III in his first start at running back; and they had three other rookies—tackles Abraham Lucas and Charles Cross, and outside linebacker Boye Mafe—also start again. That's six rookies starting or making major contributions, including 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns out of Walker in the last two weeks, and a combined seven turnovers forced by rookie cornerbacks in the last four games.
"That rookie class, they didn't miss," Smith said. "Every single one of those guys are studs. They're contributing. And you can see them growing every single week, each one of those guys. And for those guys to be young rookies and to be stepping up the way that they are, I think it speaks volumes to them personally as players and then to the organization and front office and scouts for selecting those guys."
The Seahawks face the Arizona Cardinals at Lumen Field for Week 6 of the season on October 16, 2022. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.