While a few, like tight end George Kittle, are flourishing in their second NFL seasons, several San Francisco 49ers players have fallen victim to a sophomore slump. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who is going through some growing pains this season, is among that latter group.

How rough of a season is Witherspoon having? Opposing quarterbacks have completed 60 percent of their passes this year while targeting Witherspoon, according to Pro Football Focus. He has allowed over 50 percent of the targets aimed his way to be completed in seven of his 10 games. Witherspoon has been targeted two times more than his veteran counterpart on the other side of the defense, Richard Sherman.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan discussed Witherspoon with reporters on Friday afternoon as the team prepared to board a plane for the East Coast. The 49ers will travel to Tampa, Florida for their Sunday matchup against the Buccaneers.

"I want to see a guy play with more confidence, play better," Shanahan said. "I've got a lot of belief in Ahkello because he has shown us at times. He's at a pretty big point. We've had him out there for a little bit over a year. We've got a lot of football here to play.

"Ahkello, in these six games, I want to see a lot out of him because I know he has that ability. He hasn't been consistent with it. He knows that. We all know that. But, he's a guy that can and is capable of doing it.

"The more he's out there, I hope he continues to get challenged. I hope he gets better with that. He's got six games to show it."

Expectations for Witherspoon in his sophomore NFL season were high after he posted respectable grades (per Pro Football Focus) during his nine-start rookie campaign. Instead, opposing quarterbacks have seemingly been picking on the young defender and posted a passer rating of 113.7 while doing so.

By comparison — and probably not a fair one — Sherman has allowed a passer rating of 66.8, which is lower than his marks during his Pro Bowl 2015 and 2016 seasons.

In case you missed it, former NFL safety, Dante Whitner, who played three seasons in San Francisco, recently went on a tear via Instagram criticizing the young 49ers cornerback's play.

"The thing that gets frustrating sometimes is when you're losing football games, it's very hard for people to see what's right," defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said on Wednesday. "They all want to point out what's wrong. Why are we losing? They're trying to figure out why we're losing. So, we get lost in the world of what's wrong rather than trying to find out what's right. So, with Ahkello, I think he's getting a lot better from his coverage standpoint."

Witherspoon has been nearly invisible in run support, and that's the area where Saleh wants to see improvement from his young cornerback.

"Ahkello has got to step up and play great in the run game, from a tackling standpoint," Saleh continued. "He's got to reconnect himself to what he was doing last year in that regard."

Witherspoon was even benched for two starts this season after struggling. Regardless of the year's ups and downs, he remains grateful for the opportunity.

"The season has been a blessing," Witherspoon told reporters in the locker room after the 49ers' November 12 loss to the New York Giants. "Every opportunity I have to play this game is an incredible opportunity for me. I am appreciative of every single second of it."

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