The San Francisco 49ers moved cornerback Tarvarius Moore from cornerback to free safety during OTAs, yet the change might provide the long-term fix the team needs.
Moore, whom the Niners grabbed in Round 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft, was slated to make the transition from collegiate safety to boundary cornerback, given his natural-looking 6-foot-2 and 200-pound frame. That switch went about as well as one might guess, so-so, with Moore seeing just under 22 percent of defensive snaps the team had last season.
Learning an entirely new position comes with all sorts of difficulties, especially at the pro level.
Yet with the Niners slammed with injuries out of the gate during organized team activities, Moore found himself put back at safety to merely cope with the shortages, namely veteran defensive back Jimmie Ward‘s broken collarbone.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh wouldn’t state whether or not Moore’s switch back to safety would be permanent, citing the team would “cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Still, it’s possible Moore winds up being that integral piece the 49ers have longed for over the better part of the last two years.
For starters, Pro Football Focus highlighted the differences between Moore’s collegiate production at both positions, and the contrast was pretty remarkable:
A vast majority of 2018 scouting reports, including this one from NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, touted Moore’s natural abilities at safety, too, suggesting he’d be a quality starting-caliber candidate here at the pro level.
And if you’ve been reading Niner Noise enough, you’ll know it’s not the first time writers have suggested the change be permanent.
There are a few other factors in the mix here, too. Ward is back on a one-year deal only, and the latest injury doesn’t inspire confidence in the fact he’s landed on injured reserve in four of his first five seasons at the pro level. While he’s expected to be ready to go by training camp, it’s hard to see Ward as a long-term solution.
On top of all that, the 49ers’ switch to a wide-9 defensive front has a notable trickle-down effect. By moving the strong-side defensive end to the outside shoulder of the inline tight end, San Francisco’s strong-side linebacker will no longer have to play on the line of scrimmage. In turn, the strong safety is now further from the line of scrimmage, too, making his role much more interchangeable with that of the free safety.
And it also helps to cut the field in two, moving away from Saleh’s previously used single-high safety format.
That move alone should take pressure off Moore, if he winds up securing a starting job out of training camp. He won’t be asked to provide extreme sideline-to-sideline abilities at the very top of the defense, which is generally smart for younger defensive backs still learning the nuances of pro-level coverage.
It’s anyone’s guess whether or not Moore thrives in this role. But if he does, it should vastly alter the 49ers’ long-term plans to address the position in 2020 and beyond.