Largely unlike this season, the San Francisco 49ers defensive backfield should have quite the uptick in competition when 2019 training camp and preseason roll around.
One of the benefits behind the multitude of injuries the San Francisco 49ers have had in 2018 is it’s given head coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff to evaluate deeper parts of the roster.
Particularly in the secondary, where season-ending injuries to defensive backs Jimmie Ward (forearm), Ahkello Witherspoon (knee) and Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) have opened up playing time for the Niners’ younger, more-recent investments.
This wasn’t exactly the case entering the season. Tartt was pegged as the starting strong safety with little competition, while Witherspoon was all but handed the starting cornerback gig alongside the veteran, Richard Sherman. Only Ward, who’ll likely play elsewhere in 2019 after completing his fifth-year option, was without a bona fide starting spot when Week 1 rolled around.
Harris, who has shown notable improvement since his Week 13 starting debut against the Seattle Seahawks even earned praise from Shanahan (h/t 49ers Webzone):
"Marcell’s got the talent to play. He definitely has the ability and we love his mindset. You guys can see him out there. Even if he’s wrong, he’s still flying around trying to hit people. He doesn’t hesitate. The more experience he gets, the better he’ll get and I think he’s shown the teammates, the coaches and the fans that he has a chance to help us next year. He’ll be right in the mix competing with a number of other guys."
A Tartt-versus-Harris competition in 2019 camp should be fun to watch, for sure.
So will the pending bout between nickel corners Reed and K’Waun Williams. Williams, whose Week 16 efforts during the Niners’ 14-9 loss to the Chicago Bears were commendable, should be hotly pursued by the rookie, Reed, who earned a Pepsi Rookie of the Week nomination for his efforts back in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos.
Moore, who has seen an uptick in playing time since Witherspoon’s injury, also caught the attention of Shanahan after Week 16:
"It was nice at the end when he did get beat, that the guy doesn’t quit. He doesn’t stop. He still tries to play through the guy and physical. Caused a fumble there at the end that gave us a chance to win it. So, Tarvarius, I’ve been happy with."
At some point, the Niners will have to think about replacing Sherman even if Witherspoon bounces back from a largely disappointing campaign. Moore will be in the mix for that job, for sure. And if San Francisco elects to reinforce the secondary even more this offseason, whether it be via free agency or the NFL Draft, that added competition should wind up being much more provocative than it was when 2018 training camp debuted.
And that’s a very, very good thing.