Brian Witherspoon (Getty Images)
Every year, there are anywhere from 300-500 undrafted free agents signed by NFL teams to fill out the 80-man roster. After training camp, when the final cuts are made to get down to the final 53, roughly 90-95% of those undrafted guys are let go.
There are diamonds in the rough that have been discovered such as Kurt Warner, James Harrison, and Willie Parker, but for each of those players there are hundreds of Adam Bishop’s, Clyde Edwards’, and Alex Boston’s who you will likely never hear from again.
Jaguars cornerback/return specialist Brian Witherspoon is trying to stick around on the team’s roster after being signed as an undrafted free agent rookie from Stillman College a year ago. The list of Stillman NFL Alumni is rather obscure, as you can well imagine, as the Jags Witherspoon joins Sammie Lee Hill of the Lions and James Patrick of the Patriots. Not exactly a football factory.
“It was a very difficult path, a lot of ups and downs, coming from a small division two school that nobody has ever heard of,” Witherspoon said as he was asked about his journey to the NFL in an exclusive interview on CB Sports Radio.
Witherspoon’s mind-blowing speed and field vision earned him a spot on the Jaguars active roster last season. ‘Spoon played in 14 games as a rookie and averaged 24.0 yards per kickoff return and 11.3 yards per punt return. The kickoff return average was good for 12th in the NFL (amongst all returners with 40 or more returns), and he finished 10th in the league in punt return average.
“I was very comfortable,” Witherspoon said. “I knew that one of the ways I could make the team was with special teams and I took advantage of it. So far it’s worked out pretty well for me.”
As solid as Witherspoon was as a rookie, there is certainly no guarantee that we’ll see the self-proclaimed “fastest man on the Jaguars” this fall. Jacksonville spent a third-round pick on former William and Mary corner Derek Cox and a fourth-round selection on former University of Arizona wide receiver Mike Thomas, both of which handled return duties in college. Witherspoon is aware of the situation, but isn’t going to let it affect him.
“I’m just trying to go out there and do what I do best,” Witherspoon said. “Just work hard, put the team in good field position, and do what I do. I’m not worried about the draft picks or anything, I’m not worried about all that.”
Although ‘Spoon is regarded mainly as a return specialist, he was able to get some reps late in the 2008 season at corner, and he responded by playing very well. Witherspoon would like to see more time at corner in 2009.
“It’s in the works,” Witherspoon explained. “They’ve worked me in at corner a little more, they’re trying to teach me a little more and help me become a better student of the game, and it’s going pretty good right now, I’m enjoying it.”
Brian Witherspoon has had to overcome plenty just to make it to this point in his career, and although he made the Jaguars active roster as a rookie, he is no lock to be on the roster in year two. Witherspoon and his once-clocked 4.16 speed (40-yard dash) will not be an easy cut for the Jaguars, and he maintains that hard work has been the key to his success.
“When you come in undrafted, they’re not investing a lot in you, and you have to work that much harder to prove you belong,” Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon proved that he belonged a year ago, and the Jaguars hope that he can continue that success in 2009.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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