Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Kyle Shanahan defends decision to play veteran corners over rookies

Nov 13, 2021 at 1:00 PM--

Fans would prefer to see what San Francisco 49ers rookie cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas can do. Instead, head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans have opted to play veterans Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick, neither of which is signed beyond this season.

On a side note, Norman signed with the Niners because he wanted to play for a contender. San Francisco currently sits at 3-5 and last place in the NFC West.

The 49ers entered the season with several defensive backs on one-year deals. It was a move to ensure a solid starting lineup for a 2021 playoff run, but the team didn't do much to secure viable backup plans. The Niners were relying on an injury-plagued player, Jason Verrett, to be the centerpiece of the cornerback group.

"We have a number of guys on one one-year contracts," Shanahan said on KNBR's Murph and Mac show while defending the decision to play veterans over rookies. "It started out with Jason Verrett on a one-year contract at corner, who was a very good corner. K'Waun [Williams] is on a one-year contract. And then you've got [Emmanuel] Moseley, who I think has two years.

"So, we had our three guys who we felt were our starters. We knew we had to draft some depth. That's why we went into it thinking it would be a little bit later in the draft. It ended up being a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick. We took Ambry [Thomas] in the third round. He didn't play football last year, but we knew he was a guy that had all the skillset we wanted to work with. But we were definitely not drafting him to start anytime soon."

Verrett was placed on injured reserve after Week 1 due to a torn ACL. K'Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley have also missed time this season. At 3-5, fans wonder how long it will be before the 49ers give the younger defensive backs more playing time over Norman and Kirkpatrick, who may not be on the roster next season.

"We put [Thomas] out there a little bit in preseason," Shanahan said. "We put D-Mo out there a little bit at the beginning, as you guys saw. But those guys weren't totally ready to be put in that position as starting players yet. And that's why you've got to go a veteran route.

"Those other guys, yeah, they're on one-year deals. We'll see how this year goes, just like you do with K'Waun. K'Waun's been on a one-year deal two years in a row. Same with Verrett. So you look at all that stuff, and you try to apply it, but you don't just put guys out there just because you drafted them. You put guys out there when you think they're ready to go out there and when you think they can help you."

Early in the season, Lenoir looked like a solid addition. Thomas might be a bit further behind, but the coaching staff has repeatedly expressed a strong belief that the third-round pick will contribute to the team's future success.

The fanbase is becoming impatient, though. The team is striving to win but has lost five of its last six games. Many would prefer seeing the youngsters gain experience rather than watching placeholders start in losses.

"I think they are getting a lot closer. A lot closer," Shanahan continued. "It's really helped them this last month or so, being able to hone in some of their skills, getting better, and I do think it's a matter of time. But unfortunately, they're going to have to go regardless, sooner or later.

"It was luxury. I was hoping we'd be able to keep them as backups, help on special teams, let our starters go, but that stuff happened early. Now, we're sitting here, and that's why we're pushing these guys hard every single day in practice and waiting to the time when we think they're ready to go out there over these veterans."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Shanahan below.

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