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

Matt Maiocco
NBC Sports BayArea

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.

49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon explains why he asked to play special-teams originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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