The San Francisco 49ers have Wednesday off for training camp, so we won’t have much to report on mid-week activities, but there is one thing worth mentioning, and that is some 49ers are switching positions.
Well, actually, several players are going back to positions they played in college.
When you look at the needs of the roster and where things are shaking out, it makes sense to move some bodies around, but some of the moves were a bit head-scratching to begin with. The thinking process made sense, but as any 49ers fan knows, moving a player never is guaranteed to succeed. Aldon Smith was drafted as a defensive end and had to learn how to drop back into coverage. He wasn’t too shabby at that, intercepting Tom Brady once.
Sure, Aldon went from a defensive end to a 3-4 linebacker, but it’s still worth noting. There’s also Bruce Miller who played defense in college and came to the 49ers. They converted him to a fullback and one of the better fullbacks in the league. So it can work.
But then there are other experiments. Tank Carradine was an edge rusher with some twitch and motor coming out of college. The 49ers decided to kick him inside at big end/defensive tackle as an heir to Justin Smith. The move may have sabotaged Carradine’s career before it even got going. Carradine also admitted the weight gain to play defensive tackle was awkward and disorienting. By the time the 49ers played him at his correct position, he was a free agent and is now on his third team.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s a breakdown of who’s switching where.
Began NFL career as- Free safety
Switching to- Cornerback
Probably the more strangest of the moves in 2018 was moving D.J. Reed, who is 5 feet 9 inches and 188 pounds, to the free safety position. Beyond his kick/punt returner abilities in college, this was the plan from the get-go. He did pretty good at it as 2018 wore on even forcing a fumble against the Denver Broncos.
Reed played corner in college and was pretty good at it, so the switch, when you think of his measurements was a bit odd. But who am I to argue? He had a lot of promise at free safety. Besides, Earl Thomas is 5 feet 10 inches, and we all know how good he is at that position. Of course, both Thomas and other safeties were in the 200+ pound range, but it is possible.
The 49ers have Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett fighting for those corner spots. K’waun Williams will be the nickel corner as well. There’s not much behind Williams at nickel since Jimmie Ward has moved back to safety for the umpteenth time and having someone along with that trio of Sherman, Witherspoon, and Verrett isn’t a bad idea. Plus Reed is fast.
Shanahan confirmed the move in his press conference:
“We just thought it would give him a better chance out there, with just some of the depth and things and we know he was more comfortable with it. He’s got some versatility, does a great job in nickel and he did well at safety for us last year. We know he can always go back to safety, but talking with him in this offseason, evaluating our roster, we thought it would be better, he thought so and we agreed with him, that it would give him a better chance at corner.”
Began NFL career as:-Cornerback
Switching to-Free safety
This is another move that makes sense. Both Reed and Moore played cornerback and free safety in college respectively and played those positions well. Moore even played some cornerback in college also, but it appeared he was more recognized as a safety. Moore found some footing as a cornerback in 2018 getting more and more playing time towards the end of the season, especially the final three games. He allowed 16 of his 25 targets to be completed for an average of 10.8 yards per pass.
He also allowed three touchdowns in his last three games. D’oh!
Much like Reed, the move of Moore to cornerback was for the sheer reason he was twitchy and fast. The 49ers need help at safety and may have thought moving Reed to his natural position as well as Moore to his was the best idea.
The problem is, Moore has a lot of work to do. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh confirmed Moore is staying at free safety but also has said Moore “is by no means close to being an NFL-ready safety by Week 1.”
He has plenty of time to get acclimated back into the position, so don’t take too much stock in those words from Day 4 of training camp.
Began NFL career as- Edge rusher?
Switching to- Edge on running downs, inside on passing downs
This is a bit of a strange one, so I’ll be brief. The 49ers had this bright idea to have Solomon Thomas rush the passer from the edge. It didn't’ work. They kept doing it. It still didn’t work.
They put him inside. He held his own. It was better than the edge. Thomas would get double teams (READ: Seattle). Then they put him back on the edge.
For Pete’s sake.
The plan this year is similar to what Stanford head coach David Shaw had for Thomas in Thomas’ senior season at Stanford (but never implemented since Thomas declared for the NFL Draft): Thomas will line up on the edge in running downs, and then kick inside on the passing downs.
Please. Just stick with it.
Began NFL career as- Nickel corner
But he switched to- Safety
But then he switched back to-Nickel corner/safety
Now he’s at-Free safety—no we’re serious this time. Not really. Who knows?
Ward played the safety position in college, and once he was drafted into the NFL, everyone speculated he’d be transitioning to a cornerback. He struggled a bit to start but began growing in the role at 2014 season’s end.
As time went on Ward found himself playing three positions: safety, cornerback, and injured reserve. In 2018, he was seen as the defensive Jack-of-all-trades; a safety who could play corner. That was all fine and good until injuries became consistent.
Ward was recently activated off the PUP list with his collarbone fracture and was brought back to the 49ers to play free safety. Now if he finishes the season at the position is anyone’s guess, but knocks on wood maybe this is where Ward doesn’t get injured or shuffled around for other injuries.