Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Saleh discusses Ahkello Witherspoon and giving Dontae Johnson ‘a breather’ against Texans

Dec 14, 2017 at 1:40 PM--

San Francisco 49ers starting cornerback Dontae Johnson had a rough outing against the Houston Texans this past Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed nine catches on 10 targets for 140 yards and a touchdown before seemingly getting benched. Johnson also committed three penalties in the game.

On Thursday, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh explained that Johnson did not get benched in the game. Instead, the coach wanted to give his cornerback a breather. Johnson and rookie cornerback Greg Mabin are working through practices this week for playing time, according to Saleh.

"I have not lost faith in Dontae," Saleh said. "That whole sequence, when you go through a drive like that, the thought process behind that whole sequence with Dontae is: Just give him a breather. 'Just relax, calm down, you'll be fine.'

"The intent was to get him back in, but then Ahkello [Witherspoon] got hurt. Either way, he was going to go back into the game. So it was not a benching more than a breather.

"Mabin is one of those guys that has been working his tail off in practice, and it goes for D-line, linebacker, and DBs – work hard in practice and you're going to get rewarded with some playing time and an opportunity to go put some tape forward. And so Mabin's been doing a great job, and if you see him on the field, it's not an indictment on what Dontae Johnson has been doing as much as it is what Mabin's been able to do in practice and giving him a chance to go put some tape on."

RELATED Robert Saleh describes how the 49ers defense slowed down Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins

Saleh also shared his thoughts on the progress of his other starting cornerback, rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, who the 49ers tasked with covering Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins this past Sunday.

"I thought when DeAndre [Hopkins] was over there on Ahkello, I thought Ahkello did a very, very good job," Saleh said. "There's a couple plays I'm sure he wishes he had back but I thought he had great poise. He showed great physicality at the line, was able to run and break down and transition with him and be able to maintain his face with the receiver so he could always keep his eyes on the quarterback so if they did throw it his way he could play the ball instead of the receiver.

"He showed up really well. We have no worries about Ahkello versus any receiver in this league. We think he'll do a very good job on anyone."

Witherspoon suffered a sprained knee against the Texans and was limited during Wednesday's team practice. Head coach Kyle Shanahan feels there is "a chance" the cornerback will play on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

Witherspoon made a couple of impressive tackles against the Texans. Does his physicality surprise Saleh?

"He's really taken to our tackling style, and because of it, he's really, really improved in that regard," Saleh said. "At times he looks as violent as a linebacker. It's cool to see him progress, for sure."

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