The San Francisco 49ers defense will be playing a lot of Cover 3 this upcoming season. Could UDFA Lorenzo Jerome secure a future role in this secondary?
The San Francisco 49ers will be implementing the Seattle Seahawks’ version of the 4-3 defense.
Critical to this defense is the Cover 3 alignment in the defensive backfield. This coverage is made possible by several factors.
Perhaps no player is more important to the Cover 3 than the free safety. Ideally, this player allows the corners to focus on their respective sides of the field. The middle of the field is his responsibility. He is there to read the quarterback’s eyes and make a play on the ball. It is this player who is known as the “eraser” of the defense.
Jimmie Ward excelled as a free safety before being drafted by the Niners out of Northern Illinois. This is why he was penciled in as the Week 1 starter at free safety. Unfortunately, injuries have once again put Ward’s status in question.
Luckily, the 49ers do have a few options in the event Ward is out for extended time. Third-year safety Jaquiski Tartt could get a look. However, he is more of an in-the-box safety.
He is a good hitter and sound tackler; ideal for run-support. But Tartt also has sub-par coverage skills and has been targeted in the passing game when in the lineup. His range is limited and his ball skills are lacking. If Tartt makes the team, it’ll likely be as Eric Reid’s backup, not Ward’s.
The 49ers do have a very intriguing option to fill in for Ward: Lorenzo Jerome.
Jerome signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent after the 2017 NFL Draft. Jerome played for little-known Saint Francis University (FCS). At SFU, he was a solid defensive back, putting up eye-catching numbers (six interceptions in 2016).
Additionally, he made a name for himself during this year’s Senior Bowl. There, he demonstrated the skills necessary to play free safety at the next level. Jerome possesses average athletic ability and less-than-ideal size.
However, he makes up for that with his instinctual play. He has a knack for always being around the football and making big plays.
It seems as though Jerome is one of those players who transcends measurable traits. He is surely far from a combine standout. However, he clearly flips a switch when game time comes around.
The 49ers sure could use a turnover machine on defense. I believe Jerome is the exact type of player to build a defensive backfield around. Training camp is Jerome’s best chance to prove his worth, especially with Ward out.
I would not be surprised if Jerome makes the 53-man roster. More importantly, I believe he has a real chance to be the 49ers FS of the future.