'He Can Play': Pete Carroll Confident in Tariq Woolen's Readiness Heading Into Seahawks' Opener – Sports Illustrated

RENTON, Wash. – Back in March, UTSA cornerback Tariq Woolen put on a remarkable performance unlike anything ever seen before at the NFL combine.
Measuring in at 6-foot-4 with 33 1/2-inch arms, Woolen became the first player of that height dating back to 2000 to run a sub-4.30 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, posting a sizzling 4.26 time. He also became the first player at 6-foot-4 or taller to post a 42-inch vertical jump at the showcase, truly making him one of one athletically coming into the league.
But despite those extraordinary, out of this world testing numbers, Woolen didn't rocket up draft boards like many combine superstars before him. Even after shining at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, he couldn't shake the "raw, developmental prospect" label with only two years playing cornerback under his belt at the college level, leading to him slipping out of the first three rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft into day three.
Finally stopping his free fall early in the fifth round, the Seahawks snagged Woolen with the 153rd overall selection. Landing with an organization that had previously developed Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell among other long cornerbacks, the fit seemed perfect for the player. And yet, nobody reasonably thought he would be ready to play on defense right away and expected him to be a project.
Fast forwarding four months after he reported to Seattle's rookie minicamp, however, Woolen has annihilated pre-draft narratives questioning his pro readiness and then some. Taking full advantage of his unique size and athletic traits, the rookie phenom exceeded all expectations, racking up pass breakups in bunches and holding his own against the likes of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Marquise Goodwin in practice. He's also earned the nickname "Avatar" for his freakish skill set.
Building off a strong first offseason program, Woolen started receiving first-team reps at right cornerback in the second week of training camp. The door for him to contribute for the Seahawks on defense early opened even wider when veteran Artie Burns strained his groin during one-on-one drills prior to the exhibition opener, allowing the rookie to start in all three preseason games on the right side and continue gaining trust from the coaching staff.
Even when Woolen has endured anticipated rookie struggles, including missing a tackle and allowing a touchdown on a coverage mishap in Seattle's preseason opener at Pittsburgh, coach Pete Carroll has been impressed by his ability to quickly rebound and learn from his mistakes.
“It was almost poetic that he goes out there and struggles, misses a tackle, and a touchdown pass on a bust right off of the bat," Carroll told reporters after Tuesday's practice. "Even in that game, it was like, ‘Okay, this is what it could be like. Let’s fix everything up and get back to work,’ which he did. In that game in particular, he came right back at it."
Throughout the month of August, Woolen passed every test thrown his way. On multiple occasions, Goodwin – a former U.S. Olympic qualifier – attempted to beat him on vertical routes with little success. When tasked with defending the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Metcalf in the red zone, he hasn't backed down, winning his share of battles against the former All-Pro receiver.
Rebounding from his shaky exhibition opener in the Steel City, Woolen didn't allow a reception on five coverage targets in Seattle's last two games against Chicago and Dallas. He also made strides finishing as a tackler, registering four stops without any missed tackles in the process.
Given those marked improvements across the board, Woolen has evolved from being a training camp curiosity in late July into a viable Week 1 starting option for the Seahawks. While Carroll refused to name a starter last week, he made it clear the rookie has done more than enough to earn the opportunity and he would have no reservations throwing him into the fire against Russell Wilson and the Broncos on Monday Night Football.
"We played him a lot [this month], so he got a lot of reps through the three games, and he’s been out here going against Marquise [Goodwin], DK [Metcalf], and Tyler [Lockett]. He’s hung in with all of those guys," Carroll assessed. "Those guys are as fast, as good, and as really a diverse talent that you can go against. He’s ready to go.”
As Seattle gears up for its season opener, Carroll may not name a starter at either cornerback spot during the week building up to Wilson's much-anticipated return to Lumen Field. In the name of gamesmanship, he doesn't have to, and he could easily opt to wait it out and roll with the experience of Burns and Sidney Jones considering the caliber of quarterback on the other sideline.
But if Carroll's "always compete" mantra holds true, Woolen has checked off all of the boxes to outright win a starting job on day one for the Seahawks. Every step of the way, he's shined as a playmaker swatting away passes and closing down passing lanes with his outstanding length. He's proven his coachability as well, adjusting on the fly and rapidly improving as a result.
At this point, it would be a disappointment if Woolen isn't lined up on the right side ready for his biggest test yet in a chess match against Wilson and his talented receiving corps. With him being a potential building block as the franchise kicks off a new era on Monday night, it's time to see what Avatar can accomplish against the best of the best.
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