It was an eventful Saturday morning in Santa Clara as the 49ers had their most intriguing practice of the year so far. However, before I get into the details of how the defense looked during today's practice, I want to quickly gloss over a couple of players who did not participate in practice.
Dre Greenlaw was held out of practice today due to a minor foot injury. Greenlaw has a blister on his toe. In addition, starting defensive backs Jaquaski Tartt and Emmanuel Moseley, continue to be held out of practice as they remain on the covid list.
The standouts on defense today were headlined by the defensive backs, particularly Jason Verrett and Jimmie Ward. Verrett had quite the battle going with wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk throughout the 11 on 11 portion of practice, including an impressive pass breakup on a ball intended for Aiyuk, during which Verrett was with him the whole way in coverage.
Verrett has been carrying himself with the swagger you’d expect from a number one corner who knows they are playing at or near the top of their game, which should be welcome news to 49ers fans. Ward was the star of 11 on 11s, not allowing a single reception during that portion of practice.
Ward, time and time again, displays his tremendous versatility and ability to line up all over the field, giving defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans the ultimate chess piece and solidifying his place as one of the best safeties in the league.
Fred Warner grabbed the spotlight when he returned an interception for a touchdown during 11 on 11s, but Azeez-Al Shaair had the most impressive practice among linebackers, in my opinion. He consistently won his reps during one-on-one drills where he was tasked with covering a running back out of the backfield and displayed a tremendous amount of sideline to sideline speed.
Al-Shaair also flashed on multiple plays during 11 on 11s, generating a tackle for loss on a rushing attempt and blowing up a play in the backfield by swatting down a pass attempt behind the line of scrimmage. Al-Shaair is on the fast track to starting at WILL linebacker, and he is solidifying his spot as an integral part of this defense moving forward.
Another linebacker who impressed me today was rookie Elijah Sullivan, who looked solid during team drills and added an impressive tackle for loss during 11 on 11’s. Side note, for the fourth day in a row, Marcell Harris took reps with the linebackers. The 49ers seem very committed to transitioning the former safety to linebacker.
The defensive line had quite the day today as well. For starters, I’ll mention Nick Bosa returned from his scheduled rest day, working with the defensive line and defense individually before working off to the side with Javon Kinlaw and Dee Ford (for precautionary reasons) during 11 on 11’s. However, the new additions really stole the show today as Arden Key had his most impressive practice thus far, adding a sack and a recovered fumble during 11 on 11 drills.
Samson Ebukam showed a significant amount of burst while he worked the sled with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, adding a couple of impressive pass-rushing reps during 11 on 11s. Zach Kerr had a coverage sack during 11 on 11s and looked extremely comfortable rushing the passer from the inside.
His teammates on the interior also had an impressive day. DJ Jones and Kevin Givens looked dominant during 11 on 11s, particularly Givens, who looked explosive, running a stunt while rushing Garoppolo. In addition, the depth of the defensive line as a whole was evident today as this group looks to be the backbone of a defensive juggernaut this season.