The 49ers returned to practice on Thursday, but there were additions to the injury report. Running back Jordan Mason did not participate due to an illness. Tight end Ross Dwelley was also added to the injury report with an ankle injury.
Safety Ji’Ayir Brown missed for the second day in a row with a knee sprain. Cornerback Ambry Thomas was limited. Here’s what defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said when asked how he felt about his banged up secondary:
“Well, I feel real good in regards to the guys that we have, all the way down to [CB Darrell] Luter [Jr.]. If he has to come in and play, he has definitely shown and have gotten a lot of trust from me that he can go in and execute. It’s that time of the year that we’re dealing with everything that all other 31 teams are dealing with, which are injuries. So, we can’t find any excuses in regards to that. We’ve got to show up and play.”
It sounds like Luter Jr. would be the next man up on the outside if Thomas can’t go. Jason Verrett is primarily the nickel cornerback, per Kyle Shanahan. So, the 49ers could roll with Luter Jr. on the outside with Deommodore Lenoir kicking inside, or leave Lenoir on the outside in favor of Verrett in the slot.
Wilks appreciates the way Luter Jr. practices:
“I think it’s how he practices. I think it’s how he carries himself. He’s a professional. He is definitely a guy that’s a little bit more mature to be a rookie in how he goes about his day-to-day operation. Even when he was hurt, he was constantly here getting treatment. He stayed in there with [defensive backs coach] Daniel Bullocks, the DB coach, trying to get better. You’ve seen his development and growth. And with that, when he’s out on the field, that’s where that trust comes in with me.”
Wilks said the decision to go with Verrett last week over Samuel Womack was consistency, and to see if Verrett could help down the line:
“Consistency, with all our guys. A lot too goes into special teams in regards to him being up and not being up. We wanted to give Verrett an opportunity and a chance to be able to get his feet wet, try to get back into the flow of things and seeing if he can be one of those guys that I think that can help us down the stretch here as we progress towards the playoffs.”
He had that tough play with the touchdown in the end zone, but otherwise what did you see from him on the field?
“I thought he worked within the defense. I thought his technique was good. On that one particular play, I felt like we teach chest to chest, particularly when you get in the end zone, you can’t turn away from the receiver and that’s what he did and he lost him in that split second when the ball was being thrown. So, definitely something that’s correctable and coachable.”
Do you view Verrett mainly as a nickel right now? Is that where you’re kind of using him mostly in practice?
“Right now, yes. Just for the mere fact, again, I feel very confident in Luter and you mentioned Sammy as well. So, I feel like we have some players out there that we can stack a little bit. To me it’s always that ability, if something happens with [DB Deommodore Lenoir] Demo and then [CB Isaiah] Oliver, who’s that third guy.”
The 49ers have options, and a couple of weeks to figure out which combinations work best for them in the playoffs.
Wilks mentioned that Isaiah Oliver is the emergency safety. If Brown can’t play, Logan Ryan would likely get the nod. Ryan received a vote of confidence from linebacker Fred Warner for his communication skills:
“Logan has done a great job. I was excited when we got him. I knew at some point in time that he was going to do a great job in stepping in for us. His leadership there, and I talked to [LB] Fred [Warner] about this coming off the field yesterday, and I was like, ‘did you feel and see Logan?’
He’s like, ‘yeah, man, he talks.’ And that’s the great sign of a safety. His ability to communicate, particularly when you’ve got a new guy in there, and he’s stepping up and doing those things. So, I like his presence. He has skin on the wall, as I call it. He’s been around the league for a while, played in a couple Super Bowls, so he understands the magnitude of where we are at this time of the year.”
That’s the type of experience and leadership the 49ers could use on a veteran heavy defense.