The San Francisco 49ers have a few notable position competitions on the defensive side of the ball, and the nickel back role is prominent among them. The team drafted Will Redmond as a long-term option, but his return from 2015 ACL surgery is a work in progress. Chris Davis appeared to be the No. 1 option in OTAs and minicamp, and has handled the role in training camp. Keith Reaser and Cleveland Wallace are two other options, as well as former nickel and now outside cornerback Jimmie Ward. I don’t know how well they’ll all perform, but the 49ers do have bodies.
Davis had a strong performance on Sunday, in the preseason opener, and would seemingly be securing the role for himself. On Monday, defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley had a chance to discuss Davis’s performance (video):
He’s done a really good job since he’s come in. He’s got good quickness, he’s really tough, he’s got good coverage ability, he can blitz. So for me, I’d never really seen him play before, so everybody kind of had the clean slate, and he’s just worked his way up. And I think he was really solid last night, too. Hopefully he’ll keep progressing.
Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil applauded Davis’s performance, mentioning he had three third down stops, and did a good job on screens. O’Neil was asked why he might have slipped through the cracks and gone undrafted.
“I mean, if I could answer that question I’d probably be making a lot more money than I would be as a defensive coordinator. But, no some guys are just better scheme fits. They fit better with this scheme than they do other schemes. You see guys all the time get bounced around and they were unsuccessful in one scheme and then they go somewhere else and they are successful or are coached a little bit different way. It’s happened to us in the past where a guy wasn’t very good for us and he went somewhere else and was a good player or a guy for someone else wasn’t a good player, he comes into our scheme and he’s a really good football player. But, I’ve been very impressed with Chris, just his ability to play in the slot. He’s tough. He can blitz. He’s a really smart football player. He understands leverage and coverage and he makes plays. He had three third-down stops in one half of football. That’s pretty damn good.”
As the team prepares for the Denver Broncos, Davis seems like a good bet to get more playing time at nickel. Will Redmond is dealing with some soreness in his surgically repaired knee, which cost him playing time against Houston. He talked about it being part of the progression back from the surgery.
Jimmie Ward is the most experience nickel back in the group, but the team is getting him a lot of work outside. Hafley said they’ll work to put the best 11 guys out there, which they have three more weeks to figure out. Cleveland Wallace got some reps at the nickel back on Sunday, and likely will get more this coming Saturday. Keith Reaser has gotten practice reps, but we saw a decent amount of him outside this past week. If Redmond can’t go, it opens the door for more reps on Saturday.