The San Francisco 49ers have been having issues with their secondary for what seems like the entire season. Be it poor play or recent injuries, they are playing backups of backups just to finish out the year and look to 2019.
Well, that has allowed the rookies to come in and have their shot. In Week 16 against the Chicago Bears both safety Marcell Harris and cornerback Tarvarius Moore got their starts and held their own. Moore managed to force a fumble against the Bears, and defended two passes as well in the 49ers loss to the Bears. There was good, there was some bad, but for a rookie, Moore showed a lot of upside. Kyle Shanahan said just as much in his Monday press conference, saying that Moore has a chance to compete with IR’d cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon for a starting job:
“He’s definitely put himself in a position to compete. He’s out there playing and we’re taking the good with the bad. He had some good plays yesterday. He also had some bad ones. He got beat in coverage a couple times that he can do better on. It was nice at the end when he did get beat, that the guy doesn’t quit. He doesn’t stop. He still tries to play through the guy and physical. Caused a fumble there at the end that gave us a chance to win it. So, Tarvarius, I’ve been happy with. By no means was yesterday perfect, but him getting out there and competing will make him better.”
Then there’s Marcell Harris. Not one to let Moore have all the turnover fun, Harris attempted a forced fumble of his own. The ball carrier’s knee was down, but Harris was snot-bubbling receivers left and right until a dumb decision at the end that led to Richard Sherman getting ejected. In the same press conference, Shanahan said Moore will be competing for a starting spot as well:
“Whether it’s four games in a row he’s played, maybe five, I think it’s four, but his first game out a ton was Seattle where he struggled a little bit and he’s gotten better each game since. Marcell’s got the talent to play. He definitely has the ability and we love his mindset. You guys can see him out there. Even if he’s wrong, he’s still flying around trying to hit people. He doesn’t hesitate. The more experience he gets, the better he’ll get and I think he’s shown the teammates, the coaches and the fans that he has a chance to help us next year. He’ll be right in the mix competing with a number of other guys.”
The 49ers have Witherspoon and Moore fighting for starting jobs and would be wise to get some free agent presence at the cornerback position as well. One of the criticisms of 2018 cornerbacks was making Ahkello Witherspoon a de facto starter without anyone to compete with (well, legit competition anyways).
The safeties, however, are a different story. It seems like a running gag at this point that the 49ers run out of players at the position. Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert, Jimmie Ward; all three of those names are safeties (or possible plugs at the position) and all three of those are on IR. Moore showing potential helps this group a ton going into training camp. If they can’t stay healthy, having a deep, healthy pool of players ready to go seems to be the only alternative.
They might have inexperience, but at least the young guys aren’t playing their way off the team in their first year.