49ers training camp: ‘Elite’ secondary now in play for San Francisco

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward (35) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward (35) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

Almost unfathomable a year ago, the 49ers may now boast one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL, and training camp is revealing why.

One of the few positional weaknesses the San Francisco 49ers had last year was within their secondary, primarily at cornerback, and perhaps no other single game in the 2021 season revealed that as painfully as the NFC Championship game where the Los Angeles Rams easily picked apart the Niners’ defensive backfield en route to a ticket to the Super Bowl.

Despite losing veteran starters Jaquiski Tartt and K’Waun Williams to free agency, San Francisco nevertheless spent considerable effort and capital to reinforce and reinvigorate this unit.

So far, the outcome is proving those investments worthwhile.

The 49ers have wrapped up only one week of training camp. However, combing through nearly every single camp report out there, it won’t take much effort to see just how much the revamped secondary is making an impact.

The biggest name, of course, has been veteran corner Charvarius Ward, picked up in free agency after his four productive years with the Kansas City Chiefs where he regularly defended in man coverage on an island, and how he’s carrying that swagger over to the Niners.

But Ward isn’t the only one earning praise from defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. He didn’t hesitate to call out others, too, all of whom have appeared on the positive side of practice reports:

"I’m really excited and happy about the unit that we have. The guys we have back there with, with [CB Charvarius Ward] Mooney, with [CB Emmanuel Moseley] E-Man, [DB] Jimmie [Ward], [S Talanoa Hufanga] Huf, [DB Tarvarius Moore] T-Moore, all those guys have done a great job. They’re off to a really good start. And all we’re looking for out of those guys is to continue to compete and continue to get better each and every day. And if they do that when we open the season up, we’ll be very happy with where those guys will be."

Both Ward and Moseley have looked the part of shutdown cornerbacks, while even Hufanga has recorded interceptions off quarterback Trey Lance. Not known for his athleticism, Hufanga is nevertheless looking more like a seasoned pro than a liability.

It helps San Francisco is utilizing the former USC defensive back as more of a box safety than in two-high coverage, too.

“This secondary is playing as good as I’ve seen as well,” Pro Bowl EDGE Nick Bosa added. “Which is going to make our job much easier.”

Could it possibly be the 49ers’ defensive backfield ends up overtaking the defensive line as Ryans’ top unit this season?

49ers secondary is making a habit out of intercepting passes at training camp

It’s certainly too early to suggest the Niners secondary winds up being the best part of Ryans’ defense in 2022, yet one of the ways this group could contend for such a role would be to impact the turnover ratio in a much better manner than what was seen last season.

In 2021, San Francisco was tied for 26th in the league with just nine passes intercepted, and one could argue that was a direct line from the lack of turnovers generated during training camp that year.

Only 11 picks during the entirety of camp in 2021, yet the 49ers have already recorded 10 in just four practices this season so far.

Read More: Richard Sherman showers Niners defensive backs with hefty praise

Charvarius Ward, whose presence has thickened the rest of the cornerback depth chart, could easily be cited as the No. 1 reason why. The Niners carried over a handful of competent defensive backs like Moseley and Jimmie Ward, yet Charvarius Ward’s ability to serve as a true shutdown corner has made the rest of the defense’s job much easier, as Bosa said.

As Ryans pointed out, should Ward and the rest of San Francisco’s defensive backfield continue that trend into the regular season, paired with a still-stout pass rush, perhaps the 49ers will wind up fielding one of the best defenses in the league this season.

Certainly one worth getting excited about so far.

Next. 5 Niners balling out so far during training camp. dark