49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon healthy, ready for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon healthy, ready for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

SANTA CLARA — Ahkello Witherspoon is listed as questionable for Monday night's NFC West showdown with the Seahawks, but the 49ers cornerback insists he feels 100 percent recovered from the foot sprain he suffered two months ago.

The 49ers finally having a healthy secondary begs the question of how defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will integrate Witherspoon back into the scheme. Richard Sherman's play has returned to a Pro Bowl level, and Emmanuel Moseley, who has been very effective in Witherspoon's place, has proven his worth, allowing just 11 of 21 passes (52.4 percent) to be completed against him, along with one interception.

No matter who starts Monday, Witherspoon told NBC Sports Bay Area that he's ready to get back on the field, knowing the challenge that lies ahead in stopping Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

The third-year pro hopes the 49ers' stout defensive line can shorten the amount of time the secondary will have to cover the Seahawks' receivers, but he recognizes they'll be pushed nevertheless.

"The biggest thing is Russell," Witherspoon said. "He makes it all click. If they [the 49ers' D-line] can help minimize that challenge, it is what it is, but that's kind of the thing with this week -- embracing that uniqueness of what he does.

"There are some people that try to hide from it. The reality is that he's going to do his thing. He's going to break out of there, and we've got to be great."

Secondary coach Joe Woods has altered the 49ers' strategy in preparation for Wilson. Woods knows his players must stay with their man longer because of Wilson's talent of buying time in the back field.

Ultimately, Seattle receivers will run one route from the line of scrimmage, and then a second route once Wilson starts to scramble. Witherspoon and his secondary mates are prepared to cover both.

"Joe has been saying all week -- cover them twice," Witherspoon explained. "I think that kind of mentality coming into the game, who cares if you cover them once? This week, you cover people twice, and that's the standard. It's not always that way. And then other weeks, because of the D-line, we don't have to do that. But this week, he's a talented guy, and that is going to be a reality."

Witherspoon also will heed the advice of someone who knows Wilson very well: Sherman, the QB's former Seahawks teammate.

"Sherm even tells us to be hesitant to break on the first route because it's not really going to come out too often." Witherspoon said. "That's not who he is as a player. I've kind of been doing it the last two years playing with him."

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The misconception about Wilson is that he needs to be covered like a running back, but he has just 44 carries for 203 yards so far this season.

“He's buying time, and then in critical situations, he will run, which is Russell at his best,” Witherspoon said. "He's not really trying to get yards, and he's going to protect himself. He knows what he means to that organization, and he's going to play it safe and look to pass. I think it's a great challenge for us as a team."

Should the 49ers answer that challenge, they'll find themselves 9-0, with essentially a three-game lead over the Seahawks atop the division.

Watch 49ers' Robbie Gould use kids as goal posts in kicking session

Watch 49ers' Robbie Gould use kids as goal posts in kicking session

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

With the global coronavirus pandemic forcing athletes to stay home, they are finding unique ways to train and stay in shape.

For 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, that means he can't practice his craft at the team's facility or any other football complex.

So, on Sunday, Gould got creative.

Yep. Gould lined his kids up as makeshift goalposts and picked footballs over them.

As Gould noted in his tweet, he did make sure his kids were wearing protective gear.

It's definitely an interesting way for Gould to bond with his kids, but again, the choices are limited while everyone is staying home in an effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.

Last year, Gould asked the 49ers to trade him, a request they did not fulfill. Instead, the two sides agreed to a new four-year contract.

By Gould's standards, he's coming off the worst season of his 15-year career. He made 23 of his 31 field goal attempts, a 74.2 percentage. The 37-year-old did make 41 of his 42 extra-point attempts in 2019.

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If Gould bounces back in 2020, you can give some of the credit to his kids.

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

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One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas