No. 1: How will the 49ers secondary shake out?
While much of the training camp hype has centered around the potential of the front seven of the defense, the secondary may actually be where more attention should be paid. And not necessarily for a positive reason.
While Rashard Robinson is the presumptive number one cornerback, the rest of the secondary may not be so settled.
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The second corner back position is still undecided with veterans Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Asa Jackson and Prince Charles Iworah battling rookies Adrian Colbert and Ahkello Witherspoon for the right to line up opposite Robinson.
Meanwhile, K’Waun Williams was signed in the offseason to battle Will Redmond for the slot defensive back position.
While each has had their share of good days and bad, Johnson seemed to be outplaying the others until he also suffered a concussion in Tuesday’s practice.
When training camp started, 4th year veteran Jimmie Ward was slated to start at free safety. And while Ward has talent and experience playing safety (although in college he played strong safety), he also comes with a history of being injured.
Ward has sustained two fractures in his first three seasons (Jones fracture in his foot, and clavicle fracture), and now is dealing with a hamstring injury and has been placed on the PUP list.
With his slight frame and that injury history, the 49ers will be keeping a close eye on his health and availability for sure. But the concerns in the secondary don’t stop there.
The other safety spot was considered a lock with Eric Reid moving into the strong safety role.
His size (6-foot-1, 213 pounds) and physical nature make him a perfect fit for the position, but his injury issues and history of concussions raise a few red flags as to his ability to stay healthy for a full 16-game schedule.
Reid, who has been in the league since 2013, has already suffered three concussions, but also missed time last season with an arm injury and just recently missed time during camp with an ankle injury. The immediate backup at both safety spots was Jaquiski Tartt, who himself had a camp injury to his ribs, but has returned to practice in a limited role. All that has left UDFAs Chanceller James and Lorenzo Jerome filling in as the safeties during the three veterans’ time away. Both have played well in the time given to them, and may be closing in on securing roster spots on the final 53-man roster (Jerome especially).
All this concern may be for naught if these three players return and stay healthy and produce.
If the 49ers secondary can stay healthy and be aided by a strong front seven generating a pass rush, they unit may be solid enough to make some plays and create turnovers.
But the injury concerns and relative youth behind the veteran starters is worth keeping a watch on as the preseason and regular season kick in to full swing.