RENTON, Wash. — For the most part, Tariq Woolen’s rookie season in Seattle has gotten one glowing review after another.
He has six interceptions, which is tied for the league lead and the most by any rookie. He’s making a case for defensive rookie of the year. And he’s already getting special treatment from opponents choosing not to throw his direction at times.
But for all the accolades Woolen has received, he’s still a young cornerback prone to the occasional mistake.
That’s what happened last week against San Francisco when Woolen’s miscue in coverage led to a long touchdown pass to George Kittle in Seattle’s 21-13 loss. It was the kind of error Woolen has mostly avoided.
But true to his nature and his stature as one of the top young cornerbacks in the league, Woolen immediately owned up to his error to the point Seattle’s coaches were worried about the 23-year-old being too hard on himself.
“It’s interesting the responsibility that he feels and how serious he took it. He feels like he let guys down and stuff, he made an error that cost us, but this is a moment for him,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, he just continues to accept the responsibility that he has. He has a big responsibility very quickly. He even mentioned how he never has felt like this before. He has such a big part, everybody is counting on him and he wants to come through.”
When Seattle nabbed Woolen on the third day of the draft last spring, no one would have expected this kind of season. He was a starter almost from the first day of training camp in the summer. Through 14 games, he has invited comparisons to Richard Sherman, another standout cornerback the Seahawks found in the fifth round of the draft more than a decade ago.
Woolen’s six picks — tied for the league lead with Philadelphia’s C.J. Gardner-Johnson — are the most by a rookie in Seattle franchise history. If Woolen can grab one more interception in the final three games, he would become one of five rookies since 2000 with at least seven picks.
Perhaps more amazing is that Woolen is relatively inexperienced at cornerback. As he noted on Wednesday, he played less than 20 games on defense in college at UTSA.
“It just feels good to be able to accomplish all that within a short span of my career playing the cornerback position,” Woolen said. “It builds confidence going forward and also it shows that I can go out here and play in this league.”
Woolen has also done some little things to try and improve. For instance, defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt remembered that when Woolen — a former wide receiver — arrived for rookie minicamp last May, he couldn’t catch a thing.
“He couldn’t catch a cold in Alaska. It was rough,” Hurtt said.
So Woolen started working more on his hands, whether it was tennis ball drills or catching balls off the football version of a pitching machine. Once the season started, Woolen enlisted No. 3 quarterback Sean Mannion to throw to him after every play of every team drill just to continue the work.
“It’s not just the talent, but it’s the work ethic,” Hurtt said.
Woolen’s skills, preparation and ability to rebound from a mistake should be tested this week by Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s potent offense. The Chiefs aren’t likely to avoid throwing in his direction.
“As the game goes through, you may try something new or you just want to make a play so bad you just end up losing focus on the main goal and that’s to just do your job,” Woolen said.
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