49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon explains why he asked to play special-teams

49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon explains why he asked to play special-teams

SANTA CLARA -- There was never a question in cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon’s mind what he would do next.

After he was benched in the first quarter of the 49ers’ divisional-round game against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, Witherspoon sought out 49ers special-teams coordinator on the sideline at Levi’s Stadium.

“That’s the next job,” Witherspoon said on Wednesday. “When I’m not needed at the main job, then the next one is to go contribute on special teams.

“What’s the next job? It’s to go in and try to contribute to the team on special teams. I think all of the guys on this team have that mindset. It’s not about our individual accolades because there was a point when nobody cared about our individual accolades. That’s how I look at it. It’s all about contributing and trying to help this team win football games.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan declined to reveal who would start at right cornerback on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, but Emmanuel Moseley would appear to be the likely choice after replacing Witherspoon in Week 17 at Seattle and again Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings in the 49ers' first playoff game.

Shanahan revealed this week that Witherspoon’s immediate reaction to his benching was to insist on taking over the thankless duties on special teams on punt and kickoff return. It was widely seen as an example of the selfless culture of the team that Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have built.

“I think we’ve been through it all with one another,” said Witherspoon, a third-round pick in 2017 from Colorado. “That’s the biggest thing. Some of the times I went through as a rookie were way worse than getting replaced in the divisional game by a guy you have a lot of faith in.

“When you’ve gone through those worse things, you know how to respond to things that aren’t really as bad. My teammate behind me is trying to help us go out and win a football game. And, so, you know how to handle that.”

The 49ers have a tight locker room, and Witherspoon said any number of players would have responded the same way.

“We play with love, and I think you see that on tape,” Witherspoon said. “You see that in the way people handle situations. I think it’s a testament to what Kyle and John have built here over the last few years and what we’ve gone together as a team.”

Witherspoon said he and Moseley have made each other better while competing for the same job. Moseley is in his second NFL season after signing with the 49ers last year as an undrafted rookie from Tennessee. Moseley started nine games in the regular season, taking over when Witherspoon missed more than a month early in the season with a foot sprain.

[RELATEDHow Ahkello Witherspoon exemplifies 49ers' tight-knit bond this season]

“We’ve been making each other better since OTA, which is something that people don’t see,” Witherspoon said. “It’s been a mutual, respectful, go-at-it. I love what he does, and he loves what I do. We pick each other’s brains.

“So for something like this to happen to me, isn’t that much of a shock. It’s more of a testament to the challenges I’ve put him through and what he’s put me through. It’s how we’ve made each other better for a long time now. So to see his play match that history, it’s no surprise to me.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 5:30 p.m.

NFL Draft 2020: Chase Young motivated by former teammate Nick Bosa

NFL Draft 2020: Chase Young motivated by former teammate Nick Bosa

Nick Bosa might have been the best player in last year’s draft, but the top spot went to a quarterback to fill a need for the team with the No. 1 overall pick.

Things could very well go the same way this year, with the Cincinnati Bengals taking quarterback Joe Burrow with the first selection.

That would leave the consensus top player, Chase Young, for Washington at No. 2.

Again, that player is a defensive end. Again, that player is a defensive end from Ohio State.

“Nick, he's always setting the standard,” Young said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “That's just motivation for me to achieve a lot of real good things.

“It's definitely been a blessing to watch him grow into the player that he is. He's definitely helped me along this passage. He hasn't stopped. I'm just grateful to be able to see him grow.”

The 49ers selected Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick last year after the Arizona Cardinals went with quarterback Kyler Murray at No. 1.

Bosa registered nine sacks during the regular season and four more in the postseason. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He and Young also have been in contact as Young goes through the same process Bosa experienced a year ago.

“He just told me to be myself,” Young said. “That's what I have been trying to do the whole time I've been here.”

Young, like Bosa, declared for the NFL Draft following his junior season. He enters the draft after compiling a more impressive college career than Bosa, who was hampered by injuries throughout his time at Ohio State.

In 34 college games, Young registered 30.5 sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss. Last season, he had 16.5 sacks, all of which came in the first nine games of the season. In 29 games at Ohio State, Bosa had 17.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss.

[RELATEDBosa intuitively drawn to sport that shaped his life, NFL draft future]

Bosa’s brother, Joey, went to Ohio State, where he was coached by defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Nick Bosa did not have much of a decision where to attend college because the family was already sold on Johnson’s ability to groom defensive linemen.

“I think the technique that ‘Coach J’ teaches in college works in the NFL as well,” Young said. “I'll continue to perfect my technique. The toolbox that I have now, I know that it'll bring me success in the NFL. That's one thing that I took from Nick and Joey.”

Henry Ruggs, who ran 4.27 40-yard dash, met with 49ers during combine

Henry Ruggs, who ran 4.27 40-yard dash, met with 49ers during combine

The 49ers saw firsthand how a blazing-fast receiver like Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs can change a game when Hill's deep catch on third-and-15 swung the momentum in Super Bowl LIV. Henry Ruggs, believe it or not, might be even faster. 

As San Francisco looks to upgrade its receivers for coach Kyle Shanahan's motion-heavy offense, a speedster like Ruggs could be a game-changer. The Alabama receiver said Thursday that he has met with the 49ers at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

Ruggs put on an absolute show Thursday at the combine. After measuring in at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Ruggs ran a ridiculous 4.27 40-yard dash. That is the fastest among receivers this year, and the best time thus far at the combine. His time also is tied with current 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin, who could be on his way out of San Francisco, as the fourth-fastest at the combine since 2006.

That was just the start of Ruggs' big day, too. He also recorded a 42-inch vertical leap and had a 10'11" broad jump. His athleticism simply is off the charts. 

Ruggs joins a growing list of receivers the 49ers have met with at the combine. But it seems highly unlikely he will be available for the NFC champions. The 49ers own the No. 31 pick in the draft this year, and a handful of teams ahead of them make sense as a landing spot for Ruggs. 

[RELATED: Baylor receiver Mims believes his skills match with 49ers]

Before the combine, Ruggs was selected No. 18 overall by the Miami Dolphins in our latest mock draft. It would be a big surprise to see him fall past the New Orleans Saints at No. 24 overall.

It's clear the 49ers are doing their due diligence on a loaded receiver class and could be eyeing a future star at the end of the first round. Adding Ruggs would be gold to Shanahan's offense.