SEATTLE – Maybe it was simply where the play dictated the ball would go.
Or maybe it was that the Carolina Panthers, after watching Devon Witherspoon get called for a third-down penalty that kept a drive alive, and then on the next play give up a 36-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker, decided that they’d see if they could exploit the rookie for a big play or two, as well.
Whatever the case, Carolina QB Andy Dalton targeted Witherspoon 13 times Sunday.
But unlike against the Lions, when Witherspoon gave up three catches in five targets for 64 yards and a passer rating of 143.8, according to Pro Football Focus, Witherspoon put the relative clamps on the Panthers, allowing five receptions but for just 31 yards and a passer rating of only 46.6, via PFF.
“Yeah, I feel like they were (testing him),” Witherspoon said Friday. “But that will come with being a rookie, as well. You’ve got to know they’re going to try and throw at you.”
Witherspoon’s response to that test?
“I was just trying to prove who I am out there and let them know that I’m trying to be one of the best corners (in the NFL),” Witherspoon said.
There’s clearly a long way to go to before that can be proven, though that’s obviously the goal for both Witherspoon and the Seahawks, who made a heavy investment in him by picking him fifth overall in the draft last April and as the second defensive player taken.
But the Seahawks say they are seeing all the right signs.
“He’s done really well,” defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said Friday. “Some things he is learning along the way. But his energy, juice, his awareness, ability to feel routes, anticipation of plays, even for a rookie has been really good.”
One of the harsher lessons Witherspoon has learned is what the NFL considers a defensive pass interference penalty.
Witherspoon has been flagged in each of his first two games, each time on a third down that kept alive what became a touchdown-scoring drive for the opponent.
Each flag, the Seahawks felt, was debatable.
Against Detroit, Witherspoon was called for making contact with Marvin Jones on a third-and-5, a play on which the Seahawks felt Jones initiated the contact, Carroll saying later he wasn’t sure what else Witherspoon could have done to avoid contact other than just throw his hands in the air.
Against Carolina, Witherspoon was called for pass interference while jostling with D.J. Chark on a third-and-8 play, officials apparently ruling that Witherspoon tugged at Chark’s jersey.
“Less penalties,” Witherspoon said Friday when asked what he needs to work on. “I had a penalty every game I’ve played in. Some, I may not agree with them, but they were called so, stuff like that.”
What does he have to change?
“Not the way that I was playing, just the way I played that play,” he said.
Hurtt agreed that the teaching points involve trying to figure out how not to get called for those specific penalties while playing with the same aggressiveness.
“I mean, there’s things that you teach off of, but there’s a fine line,” Hurtt said. “When there’s things that are really egregious, obvious pulls and tugs and things of that nature, obviously, you’ve got to correct those hard. But things that are kind of 50/50, you make him aware, this is what they said the penalty was for – that’s how it works in this league. There’s going to be times like that. You just kind of help him through that. But you don’t want to be so critical of things that are ticky-tacky that you make him play hesitant.”
Witherspoon said that won’t be a problem, noting the support he got from his teammates.
“My teammates, like I said, some people didn’t agree with the call,” he said. “I didn’t either. They were telling me just to play, continue to play your game, don’t change who you are. So that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”