Ahkello Witherspoon will return to starting lineup for 49ers-Vikings

Ahkello Witherspoon will return to starting lineup for 49ers-Vikings

SANTA CLARA -- Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who was benched before the final drive of the 49ers’ Week 17 win against the Seattle Seahawks, will be back in the starting lineup Saturday in the playoffs.

Witherspoon told reporters on Wednesday that he will start when the 49ers open the playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi’s Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Witherspoon did not fare as poorly as it might have looked to anyone who did not know the coverages and Witherspoon’s assignments on any given play.

“Ahkello, actually, when you go back and look at that tape, played a pretty good football game,” Saleh said. “There were a couple of situations where he got caught in a bad situation. Either way, his ability to put those to bed and compete his tail off will always define whether or not he can finish and play games at his best.

“But to say he played a poor game against Seattle, I'll be honest with all of you, it would be inaccurate.”

Witherspoon surrendered six catches (on eight targets) for 71 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Russell Wilson’s scoring pass to DK Metcalf against Witherspoon cut the 49ers’ lead to 26-21 with 3:36 remaining.

When Saleh was asked why Witherspoon was benched before the final drive of the game, he declined to answer.

“I'll keep that one in-house, if you don't mind,” Saleh said. “I'm sorry about that one. Yeah, I'll just leave that one alone.”

Emmanuel Moseley entered the game on the final drive and gave up two completions for 34 yards on five pass attempts. Moseley made one of the best defensive plays of the game with a diving pass-breakup to prevent a potential 12-yard touchdown pass to Metcalf with 51 seconds remaining in the game.

It is likely the 49ers will not hesitate to make a change on Saturday, if Witherspoon gets off to a slow start.

“I like to go out there and compete and let my athleticism give myself the best chance to win, and when I limit myself I feel like that’s a poor game,” Witherspoon said.

[RELATED: 49ers getting healthy at right time as everyone practices]

The 49ers' corners face a stiff challenge on Saturday against Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Diggs was Minnesota’s leading receiver during the regular season with 63 catches for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns. Thielen, slowed by a hamstring injury during the season, came on strong in the wild-card round to catch seven passes for 129 yards in the overtime victory against the New Orleans Saints.

Diggs did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday due to an illness, and Thielen left practice early on Wednesday with an ankle injury.

“What makes them unique is how different they are,” Witherspoon said. “You have to come in with that approach and understanding who each one is, and it should be an exciting matchup.”

Deebo Samuel pleas for 49ers to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders in free agency

Deebo Samuel pleas for 49ers to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders in free agency

Before the 49ers had officially lost Super Bowl LIV to the hands of the Chiefs, tight end George Kittle was already preaching they'd be back next year.

But it didn't stop with him.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who enters free agency, was part of a play that could have possibly been a game-changer for San Francisco. It was an overthrow by Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter. Sanders was already upset about it when approached by the media following the loss, but his teammates want him back. Especially pass-catcher Deebo Samuel.

Sanders was open about his love for the team that had just barely missed the championship and spoken out about those second-guessing him due to his age. 

Manny, 32, laughed at the fact that he was "flying past 23-year-olds," and exhorted that he still has plenty of good years left in him.

[RELATED: Sanders offers advice to teammates playing in first Super Bowl]

He did, however, embrace the youth the other wide receivers brought to the team. Whether it was music-related or not, he liked the loose vibes of the locker room and assisted the younger players in prepping for the big moments of the Super Bowl. 

Deebo noticed that and knows he wants that back for the team's quest for another Super Bowl next season. 

Jeff Wilson Jr. explains why 49ers' running backs are egoless, tight knit

Jeff Wilson Jr. explains why 49ers' running backs are egoless, tight knit

The 49ers found the perfect answer for a running back by committee approach in 2019. There wasn't one star in the rotation, yet they had the second-most rushing yards in the NFL with 2,305. 

They all have the same thing in common: At one point or another, each of San Francisco's running backs have been counted out. They all have an underdog's mentality. And yet, they're all extremely unselfish. 

"In our room, if you check our pasts, all of us have a similar background," 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr. said Wednesday morning to Steve Wyche on NFL Network's "NFL All Access." "We all come from an undrafted past where we had to take the back road. And all that helps us because we know what each other's going through. If one person's going through it, then one person's been through it.

"And for me, I'm just now entering into it. All those guys have been through the same similar situations, so we feed off each other. I feel like that alone has helped our bond to become stronger." 

Wilson went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. Raheem Mostert, the 49ers' leading rusher, went undrafted in the 2015 draft. Same goes with Matt Breida in 2017. 

Tevin Coleman (third round in 2015) and Jerick McKinnon (third round in 2014) were the only running backs in the 49ers' film room who once were drafted. McKinnon has missed the last two seasons with knee injuries, but Wilson still mentioned him among the group. 

Wilson played in 10 regular-season games in 2019 and rushed for only 105 yards, however, he scored four rushing touchdowns, good for third on the team. He also scored one receiving touchdown, and had a 20-yard reception in the 49ers' Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. 

[RELATED: 49ers have solid running backs, but group lacks something]

While Wilson is a part of a deep running back group, he's using a message from Mostert to stay motivated. Mostert took him to breakfast when Wilson first joined the 49ers and told his younger teammate, "It's gonna be a long road. You just gotta keep your head down and know what you're capable of on the inside and never let nobody deter you from that, and you'll be fine."

That seems to be the message throughout the 49ers' running backs. So far, the perseverance has paid off for this group.