The 49ers signed defensive back Myles Hartsfield to a one-year contract on March 18. Outside Talanoa Hufanga and Charvarius Ward, the Niners secondary is full of players either on a rookie or one-year deal.
What do we know about Hartsfield? Despite being 25, he played a full season’s worth of snaps in Carolina last year under Steve Wilks. I wouldn’t be so quick to write off Hartsfield as a special teamer given his positional versatility he displayed with the Panthers last season.
Myles sat down with me for about 30 minutes to discuss his journey to the 49ers, what it’s like playing with Christian McCaffrey, and how Steve Wilks taught him more in one practice than any coach has before.
Hartsfield is a Jersey boy. He’s only been to the West Coast three times prior to signing a contract with the 49ers. It was funny to hear him mention seeing Palm trees and In-N-Out employees wearing the same uniform.
As an undrafted free agent, Hartsfield had to do whatever it took to make a roster. That included playing multiple positions. He spent his initial training camp going back and forth between running back and defensive back.
How did Carolina approach you to play running back?
“So coach [Matt] Rhule actually recruited me out of high school to play running back. So, I was a running back that turned DB because I didn’t have the best catching ability, as they say. If you can’t catch, you have to play defense.
And the running backs assistant coach, E.J. Barthel, was actually the running backs coach who recruited me at Penn St. at the time. So, they all knew I could play running back. It was COVID, so you couldn’t bring in guys for try-outs. A few guys were going down. And I just stayed after practice one day.
And coach Rhule was like, ‘let’s see if you can do these running back drills.’ When over there, did good there, and then the next practice, I started gradually...I would go to the meetings with DBs at the beginning of camp. And at the end of the night, I’d be with running backs.”
What’s the biggest struggle when it comes to making it through the grind of the NFL season?
“Rookie year, you definitely hit that rookie wall. You get past those first 10 games and are like, ‘damn, we got seven more games. Is the season ever gonna end?’ But you get through that struggle.
Then that second and third year, the struggle is just trying to stay healthy. It’s not only the best players are going to play, but if you’re available, those are the people who usually stay around the longest. Just keeping my body healthy and up to shape where it can withstand an entire season of playing safety, playing nickel, playing linebacker if I need to, playing running back if I need to.
That’s what I’d say the biggest struggle is, just staying healthy. I’ve tried different things nutritionally, such as meal preps, eating more vegetables and greens. You can definitely see the difference in your day-to-day abilities, and day-to-day health in how you just feel walking up in the morning.”
Hartsfield said asparagus was the hardest veggie for him to come around on.
What’s Christian McCaffrey like in the meeting rooms?
“He’s a character. He’s a funny guy. Not only does he hold everybody accountable, but he leads by that. He’ll show you better than he can tell you. He’ll be the first one in the weight room and the last one lifting.
With the years in Carolina that I was with him, he just showed us better than he told us. A lot of people preach it, but don’t actually do it. But you actually see him preach it and do it. So, it was pretty cool to see a top-tier player like that doing exactly what he’s telling other people to do.”
What were your exposures to Sam Darnold
“Sam is a cool, you can tell Cali dude. Laid back. But Sam is funny. He’ll crack his little dad jokes. But Sam’s a cool dude. I mess with him a lot. He’ll say something where you won’t even be looking, you’ll turn around, and he’ll be like, ‘I didn’t say that.’
He’s definitely a great dude. I think it’s a great opportunity for him to be over here and back closer to where he’s from.”
What was it like playing for Steve Wilks, and what can the 49ers expect getting this caliber of defensive coordinator?
The day I got the call from Coach Wilks when he became Carolina’s DB coach, I was like, ‘no way!’ I was just excited. Everyone was like, ‘oh, you’re going to get so much better with him. He’s going to teach you things.’
Literally, from Day 1, he told me stuff that I didn’t even think of on the field. The ins and outs of details that he projects with. The accountability. He holds everyone accountable. You get around some coaches, whether at the college level, high school level, NFL level, and they’re scared to talk to the high-profile guys. They’re scared to tell them how they really feel.
Wilks is like, ‘I care about you so much that I will tell you how it is.’ And that’s all you can ask from a coach. A coach who is not afraid to tell a dude who makes this much compared to a guy on a rookie contract. They’re going to be talked to the same. They’re going to be treated the same.
Why did you sign with the 49ers?
“I talked about it with my agent, and through the process, we just thought that the 49ers were the best opportunity. For me, every year is a prove-it year. Regardless, if it was my third year in Carolina where I knew I was going to get some playing time at the nickel and safety, or if it was rookie year. I’m always on a prove-it year.
I feel like that’s the only way you can stay relevant in this league, is to always think that your job can be taken at any time. With Coach Wilks and how this defense did last year. Being behind the defensive line makes a DBs job way easier.
So, I thought, and my agent thought, that this was the best opportunity for me to not only get on the playing field but to improve as a player at the safety position, nickel position, whatever position it is.”
What position do the Niners envision you at?
“Pretty much safety, and then get a shot at nickel. The same, how I’ve been. I think just the opportunity is to show that I can do multiple things. Like against the Rams last year, I played corner. Jaycee [Horn] was following Cooper Kupp, so when Cooper Kupp went inside, I played outside.
So being able to showcase that versatility, knowing that they have a guy who’s going to stay healthy the whole year and can step in if a safety goes down, I can go back there. I can play nickel, dime, all that.
Also, with the special teams. I earned my way on the field playing special teams, and I will keep playing special teams. I really cherish that realm of football. It’s the forgotten realm. Everybody focuses on offense and defense. Usually, the Super Bowl teams that are winning a lot, their special teams are in that top-5 category.
I really pride myself on being a gunner, or on kickoff, a center on kickoff return. I just can’t wait to showcase that I’m very versatile and a team player who’s willing to be plugged in to wherever is needed.”
Hartsfield said if he could pick one position, it would be in the slot. “I truly enjoy that grittiness of being in the box.”