San Francisco 49ers: 5 Best Position Battles to Watch in Training Camp
By Peter Panacy
Players on Roster: Kenneth Acker, Tramaine Brock, Marcus Cromartie, Chris Davis, Prince Charles Iworah, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson, Jimmie Ward (nickel)
General manager Trent Baalke was pretty “trigger happy” in landing cornerbacks via the draft. 2016’s draft netted three more options in addition to an already crowded roster spot: Mississippi State’s Will Redmons, LSU’s Rashard Robinson and Western Kentucky’s Prince Charles Iworah.
Here’s the incumbent scoop — the 49ers already had a lot of depth. But aside from No. 1 corner Tramaine Brock, no one has really secured the No. 2 job. Third-year pro Kenneth Acker looked to be the favorite, but he lost his starting position towards the tail end of last year. Fellow corner Keith Reaser didn’t see much of the field either.
Cornerback Dontae Johnson seems to be the favorite out of the bunch, according to many Niner fans, but there has to be some wonder behind the lack of playing time he’s received. Have the 49ers coaches not totally trusted what they have seen in him in practice? We don’t know.
There are two ways to look at Baalke’s actions for the cornerback position — moves which will create, perhaps, the greatest amount of competition during camp.
First, one might assume Baalke is taking a “shotgun” approach here. The 49ers draft a lot of corners with the hope one or two work out well enough. It’s a similar thought behind the Niners’ drafting of Acker, Johnson and Reaser back in 2014.
The other may have a little more to do with scheme than anything else.
One of the contributors over at Niners Nation put together a piece describing why the 49ers needed to have more of a cornerback plethora and, specifically, guys who fit pinpoint needs. Here’s a part of the assessment:
"I found myself scratching my head about these picks. Both seemed ‘off’ somehow, and for different reasons. Add to that the 49ers’ surprising attempts to pursue expensive free agents only at CB this offseason (Sean Smith, Josh Norman). Clearly, I was missing something here. Then after reading between the lines of a Baalke interview I became convinced of this: my idea of needs-based offseason priorities for the defense was entirely wrong because it was based on an “old” vision for our defense. What Fangio installed and Tomsula/Mangini ultimately retained after early losses last year was a philosophy that placed ‘safe’ above ‘attacking’."
The entire article is worth a read, and you can take from it what you wish. But it might shed some light on what many may view as a confusing approach by Baalke.
Not all of the aforementioned corners will make the roster. Even if the Niners want to be stacked with depth here, it’s hard to see seven or even eight corners on the 53-man group. And that doesn’t even include nickel corner Jimmie Ward, who we’ll likely see more at safety in coming years.