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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Saleh believes 49ers’ ability to develop players can help offseason cornerback conundrum

Oct 17, 2020 at 9:48 AM--

Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt, K'Waun Williams, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, Dontae Johnson, and Jamar Taylor. Those are all San Francisco 49ers defensive backs who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next offseason.

Emmanuel Moseley and Ken Webster are scheduled to become exclusive-rights free agents, while Marcell Harris will be a restricted free agent.

It may have been more efficient to rattle off the names of those who will be under contract.

The 49ers defensive backfield will likely look very different in 2021. The team has some young talent that it is high on, like Tim Harris and recently-claimed Parnell Motley. How does San Francisco balance trying to patch together an effective secondary amid injuries while evaluating that young talent for the future? Does defensive coordinator Robert Saleh have to remain more conscious of his less-experienced players who may have to be part of the plan for next season?

"One hundred percent," Saleh responded on Thursday. "... So, with all those guys, one of the greatest things that I think this organization does is we develop football players better than anyone in football. I believe that. All the way from our training staff, to our strength crew, to management, to coaching, all the way down, we spend so much time watching their scout team reps, so much time after practice trying to make sure they're getting reps that they may not have gotten because the ones are getting the reps. There's a lot of extra time put into continuing the development of those guys.

"So, to answer your question, with that coaching and investment goes into an evaluation on whether or not they're capable of taking that next step because we're constantly engaging ourselves with them and just not, 'Oh, you're on the practice squad, go do whatever you do for the scout team.' It's, we take those reps.

"We have individual meetings with those guys, and we're continuing to try to get those guys better every single day because reality is, just like last week, you never know when that guy might get called up because of injury. So, we're constantly trying to stay engaged with those guys to get them better every day."

Brian Allen is another one of the young cornerbacks who the coaching staff will have to continue evaluating. He was thrown into a difficult situation this past weekend against the Miami Dolphins. Allen received his first NFL start a day after being activated from the practice squad, and Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took advantage of the situation.

Saleh admits that the coaching staff probably could have done more to help Allen, who had not appeared in a game since 2018.

"I know that we had a certain game plan going in throughout the entire course of the week, and we still thought we, after that first series, did our best to try to give him some safety help," Saleh explained. "Again, I'll give credit to Brian. He did fight his tail off, and it was unfortunate that on a couple occasions, when we felt like we needed to take a shot based on situation and third down, Fitzpatrick did a really good job in making the right read and getting the ball where it needed to go.

"But, like I said, there's always opportunities to grow and learn as an individual, and I look at that situation a little different."

The good news for the 49ers is it looks like Moseley could be back on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams. He has missed the last two games due to a concussion. Witherspoon, who relieved Allen and played through a hamstring injury against the Dolphins, hasn't appeared on an injury report this week.

That should give Allen more time to develop on the practice squad as he awaits his next opportunity.

Added Saleh: "I'm very proud of the individual, and I mean this sincerely. He's got a bright future ahead of him. Sometimes people get thrown into a fire, not that he wasn't ready for it, but there's still a lot of room for him to grow and get better, and I'm still excited to work with him on a day to day basis."

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