The 49ers releasing Darqueze Dennard, despite him running with the first team exclusively at slot cornerback, was a move nobody saw coming. Head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke about the move after Wednesday’s practice and was fairly blunt with his answer:
“We didn’t think he was going to earn that spot. Whether he is out there with the ones or not, no one really is slotted that way, except for the depth charts we have to give you guys before preseason. So we wanted to give him opportunities, being the vet and with younger guys coming in, but we got to see enough where we felt the younger guys were going to have a chance, so we want to give them some reps. And Dennard’s been awesome for us when he helped last year stepping in, in that game. He was a good player for us this offseason. And we’ll see how these guys do and if doesn’t work out, hopefully someday can come back.”
This reads like a head coach who wanted to see more from his veteran cornerback, which didn’t happen. Shanahan pointed out the obvious answer as Dennard’s potential replacement:
“Yeah, [CB Samuel] Womack [III]. I think everyone saw him during the game and he did a real good job. He’s done a decent job in practice too. We have some safeties who we can mix there also. So there’s still some competition, but yeah, we’ve been happy with how he’s been so far.”
Those safeties are Dontae Johnson and Tarvarius Moore, who played nine snaps in the slot against Green Bay last Friday.
Other slot defenders included Qwuantrezz Knight, Johnson, and George Odum — who, based on his frame, skillset, and willingness to hit, isn’t a bad option. A healthy Jimmie Ward will take pressure off Womack.
After Womack’s performance against the Packers, Shanahan was asked whether it’s easy or not for a rookie to step in and win the job:
“It is difficult for rookie to step into any job. K’Waun [Williams] when I was with Cleveland, he was on the rookie tryout team and he ended up starting that whole year in Cleveland as a rookie. In 2016 when I was in Atlanta, we went to the Super Bowl, we had a rookie, I think a seventh-round pick start that whole year, so it’s not abnormal, but it has to be the right guy. And we’ll see how that it ends up.”
Shanahan having experienced rookies excelling in the slot makes it much easier to believe Womack can continue his play into the regular season. It also helps that all above-average players will surround Womack.