Many of us assumed that Isaiah Oliver was a lock to start in the slot at nickel for the 49ers defense. Oliver ran with the first team all throughout OTAs, mini-camp, and training camp.
After a disappointing preseason game, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has decided to make some modifications to the rotation by shuffling through who gets reps in the slot:
“It is just really a rolodex of players, to be quite honest with you. And we did some things today where, we put [CB D’Shawn] Jamison inside, we moved Demo [DB Deommodore Lenoir] back inside a little bit. Certain reps, [CB] A.J.’s [Parker] been doing a great job inside at nickel as well. So, we just really continue to try to find the mix. We love the competition and trying to make sure guys continue to get better.”
Jamison played 24 of his 25 snaps against the Raiders on the perimeter, but has received plenty of reps at nickel with the second and third team during practice. A.J. Parker, a UDFA from the 2021 class, played all 14 snaps from the slot. He had an impressive tackle for loss.
But the story here is Ambry Thomas. He played fast, looked confident, and when you make plays on the ball in a game setting, you’ll get recognized. Wilks singled out Thomas during his opening statement on Tuesday:
“I thought did a tremendous job and some of the things that we saw on tape, particularly also during the game, coming up strong on that fourth-down play. And then having a PBU.”
Wilks knows it’s about getting the best 11 on the field. He said that if Ambry or Samuel Womack, both cornerbacks who’ve exclusively played on the outside, are performing better than Oliver, then Deommodore Lenoir gives the defense the luxury to move inside. Deommodore played 172 snaps in the slot last year, and an additional 34 as a rookie.
Lenoir’s familiarity and experience allows Wilks to trust him to play inside:
“He got back in there today and it’s like he had been playing nickel all offseason. So that was encouraging to see. Just his communication, recognizing formations, and adjusting to motion and those kinds of things because it happens fast in there. And another thing that people don’t really understand, you’re a linebacker in the run fit, and then of course you’re a DB in coverage. So, understanding run fits is critical at that position. He did a good job with that today.”
The 49ers aren’t closing the door on Oliver starting after one half of football, but Wilks said he wants to see Oliver be more consistency and take advantage of his opportunities by making plays.