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."
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.