49ers training camp battle No. 2: Safety reserves
The 49ers’ starting safety duo will look a lot like it has since 2017 when Kyle Shanahan took over, employing veteran defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt to man the last line of the defense.
Yet Tartt is back solely on a one-year deal, meaning the Niners already have to start thinking about long-term replacements. And given both Ward and Tartt’s extensive injury histories, boasting some quality depth is something San Francisco wants to ensure heading into 2021 anyway.
The last two years, the combination of defensive backs Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris left a lot to be desired in pass coverage, which partially explained the free-agent pickup of veteran strong safety Tavon Wilson during the offseason.
Wilson has far better pass-coverage skills than Moore and Harris, although the 49ers’ fifth-round draft pick, USC safety Talanoa Hufanga, will be the younger and cheaper option over the next four years. Given the proverbial “long game,” it would be much wiser for the Niners to focus their efforts towards getting Hufanga properly prepared for an eventual starter’s role.
Hufanga’s addition puts players like Moore, Harris and Wilson (all entering contract years anyway) into a bit of a precarious spot in terms of making the 53-man roster.
There will still be room for perhaps one more safety, likely Moore to back up Ward, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Harris and Wilson pushed off with roster cuts.