THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A big grin spread across the face of defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon, who affirmatively nodded his head as the reporter finished his question about what Witherspoon likes most about playing on the Rams defense.
"I like guarding one person, and they know I'm guarding them, and I know I'm guarding them, and the stadium knows that I'm guarding them, and it ain't going down like that," Witherspoon said. "That's what I love about this defense. There's not a lot of soft zones and who's got this guy, who's got that guy. It's like, 'Nah, I got you, and you know it, I know it, let's go.' That's what I like about his defense."
Five games in, Los Angeles is just as excited about what Witherspoon has brought to the unit, and how important of a piece he has become for L.A.'s young secondary this season.
Witherspoon has had a hand in each of the Rams' three takeaways this season, all of them coming in three-consecutive weeks. He had an interception in the fourth quarter of the Rams' Week 3 game against the Bengals, then followed that up with a fumble recovery against the Colts in Week 4 and an interception against the Eagles in Week 5.
According to Pro Football Focus, Witherspoon has a 36.7 passer rating allowed this season – second-lowest among cornerbacks with at least 100 coverage snaps this season entering Week 6.
The aggressive, sticky coverage concepts Witherspoon alluded to was part of what made signing with the Rams appealing, as well as getting to know defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant based on the conversations he had with the two of them. He also had some familiarity with players on the Rams' roster, even with as young and turned-over as it was heading into the season. Piece by piece, each of those variables put together a natural fit in Los Angeles.
"Yeah, first, the scheme, just similar to what I did in San Francisco in terms of the stickiness and trying to be tight in coverage and make quarterbacks beat you, that's always appealing," Witherspoon said. "Just speaking to Raheem and Aub, they seem like great people first and foremost, so that was appealing. And honestly, just being able to be a part of a young group, I had watched guys like (defensive back) Jordan Fuller from afar, understanding his leadership role and the qualities he brings to the game. And then the unknown of the young guys, just being able to sprinkle some of my knowledge, some of my experience on them. All of those multiple parts came together very naturally."
The Rams, meanwhile, needed more length at cornerback to play alongside what they had at the position. Defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant said that the more length you have at the line of scrimmage, when you're trying to play press coverage, it "allows you to be able to have more space to get your work done."
"Anytime you look at the league, you see the receivers are not getting any smaller, they're also getting bigger as well, faster," Pleasant told theRams.com. "The more you can have a guy that can match up with those type of measurables, that don't feel like you're outmatched on just an attribute level, let alone a talent level, is something that you can always feel comfortable with. You'd like to have a different mix of guys so that you can have different matchup pieces, but that's something we definitely saw, as a veteran we thought we could take advantage of, if he was willing to come."
Thus, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Witherspoon was a logical target in free agency in late June.
"We wanted to add some length to the group, get some people that could absolutely go out there and play with those guys," Morris said. "At the time we had (former Rams defensive back) Robert Rochell who had good length, get those guys to compete in training camp. For him to come in and to be able to assume a starting position has definitely exceeded probably all of our expectations at the time that he came in, but probably not his with the way he goes about his business every single day."