San Francisco

Niners May Have Found a Cornerback in Philadelphia

Rookie third-round pick Witherspoon has a strong game in first NFL start, even as San Francisco suffers another loss, this time to Eagles

In his first career start Sunday, 49ers’ rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was impressive.

On a day in which San Francisco lost 33-10 to the Eagles to fall to 0-8 this season under first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan, little went right. Quarterback C.J. Beathard struggled under intense pressure, the offensive line was crippled by injuries and the 49ers lost the turnover battle, 2-1, to help keep this team winless. But Witherspoon, a third-round pick from Colorado who was starting in place of Rashard Robinson, at least gave his team a glimpse of a possible standout at a position clearly in need of a playmaker.

The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder had an interception and was in on three tackles against the Eagles and was strong in pass coverage in just his fourth NFL game. He was the highest-graded 49ers player by the analytic website Pro Football Focus.

Wrote PFF: “Witherspoon was active throughout the game and was continuously tight in coverage. Outside of a 50-50 ball with (Alshon) Jeffrey that ultimately ended up being a touchdown, Witherspoon forced a number of errant throws due to his close coverage.

“He was able to take advantage of a receiver-quarterback miscommunication and jumped a dig route for an interception on (Carson) Wentz in the third quarter. On the day, Witherspoon was targeted eight times and allowed just three receptions.”

Witherspoon’s pick set up the 49ers’ only touchdown. His play certainly caught Shanahan’s eye.

“He had a big turning point in that game and gave us a chance with that interception,” Shanahan told reporters. “It seemed like he challenged guys.” Shanahan said he’d know more after watching film, but was pleased with what he saw from the sideline.

Witherspoon said he’s gaining confidence now that he’s getting time on the field.

“In terms of seeing the game, the game’s slowing down,” he told the media. “Playing with the same technique over and over again, mentally it’s like, ‘How can I lose playing this way?’ ”

The 49ers return home this week to take on the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m.

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