The San Francisco 49ers have moved Jimmie Ward to outside cornerback, and that opened up competition for the nickel back. Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil met with the media on Monday, and had a chance to discuss the position.
O’Neil said that Ward is getting some work in the slot, but his preference is that Ward stay outside in the nickel. He talked about the different mentality of playing out on the edge vs. coming inside to the slot. He would not rule it out entirely, but he seems to strongly prefer having the nickel back cover the slot.
O’Neil said the competition at nickel back is primarily Will Redmond, Keith Reaser, and Chris Davis. Redmond and Reaser are draft picks, while Davis entered the league as an undrafted free agent, and joined the 49ers last fall, first on their practice squad. Davis ended up getting a lot of work in OTAs and minicamp as the starting nickel back. O’Neil had a chance to explain why Davis has earned so many reps:
“He’s smart, tough, makes plays. He does a good job executing the coverages. So, he had a really good spring. He’s a guy that kind of popped off the tape. So, he’s one of the guys I’m really looking forward to seeing how he progresses through training camp with the pads on.”
Cornerbacks can get plenty of work without pads, but getting the pads on and allowing for more physicality will give us a better idea of where things stand. This position gets particularly interesting because Redmond’s practice on Sunday was his first with the team. He was at OTAs and minicamp, but focused his time on rehab. He is now participating in practice, which will give him a chance to show what he can do. The team seems to view him as a slot corner of the future, but for now we have to wait and see how soon that future is.