The San Francisco 49ers got their first extended look at rookie safety Marcell Harris in Week 13, as he started at strong safety against the Seattle Seahawks. Jaquiski Tartt started at free safety in place of an injured Jimmie Ward, which got Harris his first start in only his fourth appearance as a rookie.
Harris had some positive moments, but he showed he has plenty of work to go. Harris opened the season on injured reserve, and made his first appearance in Week 9. He played six defensive snaps and 16 special teams snaps that week. He played exclusively on special teams in Week 10, and then eight defensive snaps in Week 12. In Week 13, he played 58 defensive snaps in his first start.
Pro Football Focus released their grades for Week 13, and Harris did well in coverage, but poorly in run defense and tackling. The film showed it, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh acknowledged he needs to improve on his footwork, angles and tackling. He said all three areas were “a bit behind,” which makes sense given how much time he missed on the IR list.
On Monday, Kyle Shanahan offered his thoughts on Harris after his first start:
“I think he played like it was one of his first full games starting. He showed some potential and things like that, but he hadn’t been in that situation where he’s had to make that many tackles in a game for over a year. He didn’t get to play his last year at Florida. So, I thought he was a little bit rusty, but it was definitely expected. The game wasn’t too big for him. He didn’t turn it down. He didn’t try to pull himself out. He kept going and kept shooting his guns. Connected on some, but also missed on others. He has the ability to be a good tackler. He’ll get better from playing. You’ve just got to take some of the good with the bad as he works through that stuff, just kind of like we have with Dante the last couple weeks too.”
Saleh offered a reason to pay particularly close attention to Harris this weekend against the Broncos. He expects the rookie to show improvement, saying that “you make biggest jump from week one to week two in my mind.” Jaquiski Tartt will not be playing this weekend, and it seems that Harris could get extensive playing time to close out this final quarter of the season. We’ll see if a jump happens.