Some similarities between Ahkello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman maybe easier to point out than others. For starters, they both play cornerback and hold comparable height and body compositions. It's also easy to find yourself in awe of their eloquent vernacular and narrations. (Remember Witherspoon's profound debate on a hot dog being a sandwich?) As Witherspoon pointed out on Tuesday, the two even share the same zodiac sign (Aries), which the corner suggested only adds to their connection.
But astrology aside, it makes sense why there are comparisons between the two corners. Witherspoon has geared his game to emulate Sherman's.
"All I wanted throughout college was to play across from Sherman. He was an idol of mine," Witherspoon said. "Just to have that opportunity to learn from him and pick his brain, that's all I craved. In terms of playing across from him, I just wanted it so that I could understand what he knows. (I wanted to) learn the game from how he sees it to build on (my) athleticism and what I already bring to the game."
Witherspoon's wish came true when the veteran free agent signed with the San Francisco 49ers this past March.
Coming off of an Achilles injury last November, Sherman is expected to return at the start of training camp. Though he's isn't participating in OTAs, that hasn't stopped him from being active during the team's voluntary workouts. Sherman spent most of Tuesday's practice supporting his fellow defensive backs from the sideline. During individual drills, Sherman even got onto the field and showed his teammates proper technique.
During the 7-on-7 period, Witherspoon forced an incompletion and "Coach Sherman" was right there on the sidelines to praise the second-year corner.
"It's been very natural. I attribute it to him being a fellow Aries. We understand each other on a different level," Witherspoon added. "But on the football side he's just a great, great person. (He) teaches me a lot. He's very active and hands on and just wants to see my game propel to the next level."
Sherman's veteran presence has built a culture of its own among the 49ers secondary. He's been at the center of orchestrating several activities to build camaraderie and morale. From catered dinners, to go kart racing, to bowling all at Sherman's expense, he's been the driving force behind instilling fellowship and chemistry.
"That was one thing that (defensive backs coach Jeff) Hafley kind of stressed this offseason, was that he wanted to see that pick up. We had a good friendship in the room, but how could we expand on that and make it even more authentic than what it already was?" Witherspoon noted. "So, that's what we're trying to do is just be around each other and understand each other as people. And then you blend better on the football field."
It's clear that Sherman's leadership has already become a valuable addition to the 49ers young defense. His resume that includes four Pro Bowls, three All-Pro honors and one Super Bowl ring makes him an easy veteran to follow. When a guy of Sherman's caliber speaks, it would behoove you to listen.
"His leadership in Seattle – that's what they had that was so special. It was such a close group," Witherspoon said. "So he comes here and he understands that kind of relationship between players is what builds champions and that's what we're trying to obtain."