49ers training camp has revealed a number of intriguing camp battles, but is it redundant to have one for the No. 2 cornerback job?
But who plays opposite him come Week 1 is still up for grabs.
According to defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who told reporters such earlier this week, the Niners’ No. 2 cornerback spot on their depth chart remains open:
So, just how necessary is this?
The short answer, of course, is it’s very necessary. Competition, even among entrenched positions with starters in place, sharpens any player’s focus. It was the mantra of San Francisco’s former head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who seemingly created competition out of nowhere even when it wasn’t totally necessary.
That’s not quite the extremity of Saleh and now-49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, yet both coaches have stressed the need for other players to push each other at their respective positions and across from their competition.
But the question marks start to arise when actually considering who the winner of this battle — Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon — should be. All three have their rightful claims to the job. Verrett, a one-time Pro Bowler, had the highest pedigree out of all three contributors. Witherspoon, the Niners’ third-round pick from 2017, performed well in this role both his rookie season and early in 2019. Moseley, meanwhile, earned the coaching staff’s comfort to start here both during the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.
The outlier, perhaps, is Verrett. The oft-injured defensive back saw just two snaps last season, and neither of them went well: the first being a pass-interference call and the second being a touchdown allowed. Plus, Verrett has appeared in just six regular-season games dating back to the start of 2016 when he was with the San Diego Chargers. Yet San Francisco clearly saw something in Verrett even after his forgettable and abbreviated 2019 campaign, at least enough to re-sign him and give him time with the first-team unit in training camp.
Yet those sessions haven’t exactly gone well so far.
Witherspoon is something of an outlier, too, although one could make the argument he’s teetering on the verge of being a decent starting option, mostly predicated on his early performances in 2019 before suffering a foot sprain in Week 3. Plus, with him entering a contract year, one figures Witherspoon understands the pressure is on. He can’t exactly afford to fall down on the depth chart.
Yet Moseley, even with his relative lack of experience, showed enough over the second half of 2019 to warrant the strongest of all consideration for the right to start opposite Sherman. Yes, the two-year pro was primarily responsible for that now-infamous 3rd-and-15 coverage gaffe in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs. But the body of work leading up to that was, by in large, awfully good.
So, as the longer answer is looking, there shouldn’t exactly be much of a competition here. The job is Moseley’s to lose.
While competition is good, and the job shouldn’t simply be handed to Moseley outright, there is a benefit to players understanding and knowing their respective roles. Perhaps that’ll be the tune from Saleh and the Niners coaching staff in the coming weeks as the cornerback depth chart takes shape.
For now, however, the job remains up in the air even if it doesn’t necessarily have to.