Seahawks rookie cornerback has raw talent and the pep of Richard Sherman, but can he rise up? – The Seattle Times

You can learn a lot watching Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen move. In a couple of ways, he does it better than just about anyone. 
At the NFL combine last March, the 6-foot-4 University of Texas, San Antonio product thrilled a national audience with a 4.26 40-yard dash time — the fastest in event history for anyone over 6-foot-3. For good measure — or better yet, good measurement — he topped the combine class with a vertical leap of 42 inches. 
But perhaps one could learn just as much about Woolen when he sits perfectly still, as he did following a blown coverage — which came shortly after a missed tackle — that led to a Steelers touchdown in the first series of last Saturday’s preseason opener. The First Drive Scenario Wheel landed squarely on “nightmare” for the Seahawks rookie, and his face showed his frustration on the Seahawks sideline.
Everyone knew that the fifth-round pick had bounce, but as he sat sullenly after the play, the question was: Could he bounce back? 
“He felt like he was really nervous, you know — and he was kind of rattled a little bit … to miss a tackle and then to get him in the end zone, that all happened within about five minutes,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “But he put it behind him beautifully.” 
Before fast-forwarding to what happened next, let’s rewind back to Woolen’s days at UTSA, where he played his first two seasons as a receiver before converting to cornerback for the next two years. Let’s recognize the raw talent that landed him in the Senior Bowl, where he ran an event-record 22.45 mph. But let’s also acknowledge his inexperience as a defensive back along with the fact that he played four years at a mid-major, which is likely why he fell to the fifth round. 
Hmm. Receiver-turned-cornerback who the Seahawks nabbed in the fifth round? Sound familiar to anyone? 
Sorry, Tariq — it’s probably not fair to you — but that’s a reference to Seahawks legend and likely Hall of Famer Richard Sherman. And that’s the comparison folks have been throwing around lately when discussing the 23-year-old. Like Sherman, Woolen is long and clearly competitive — and outside of that forgettable first drive Saturday, he has been about as efficient as any Seahawks defender this training camp. 
Sprung into a starting role in the intra-team mock game earlier this month, Woolen made himself the top non-quarterback-related storyline. He appeared to intercept a deep pass from Geno Smith to Marquise Goodwin, only to have it ruled incomplete (Woolen maintains he picked it, and the tape makes it tough to argue against him). He later knocked a seemingly caught ball out Goodwin’s hands for another incompletion, and as a result of his play, was the first defensive player to be brought to the podium for the postgame news conference.
What was it like being out there with the starters? 
“Honestly, it’s just pretty cool because you are playing with guys you usually see on TV or play with on Madden,” said Woolen, rocking a Rolling Stones shirt he bought from Target. “It feels good to be out there with them.” 
He may be out with them a whole lot more. Woolen didn’t do anything spectacular after his first-series foul-ups last Saturday, but he was solid the rest of the game. Carroll stated as much twice after practice this week. But Carroll saved his most praiseworthy words for Woolen in response to a question about his interception in an 11-on-11 drill Tuesday, when he undercut a curl route to pick off quarterback Drew Lock.
“He’s a backside corner that made a play on a front-side curl on that play. He knocked a ball down last week on a corner route from another receiver,” Carroll. said. “I have not seen a corner make that play before and that’s back-to-back weeks. That is pretty special.” 
Hey, it’s training camp, and we’re talking about a rookie here. Many a player has been acclaimed in the preseason only to fade into obscurity once the games start to count. But after acing the eye test at the combine, Woolen has shown potential to rise the top of the curve during the on-field exam as well.
Thursday night at Lumen Field is his next chance to dazzle. Could also be a game in which he makes another conspicuous first-year mistake.
No doubt there is a lot for Woolen to learn. But if his performance throughout camp is any indication, there’s even more about Woolen to like.  
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

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