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Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Do the 49ers have an issue at slot cornerback?

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 26, 2022 at 10:00 AM--

Earlier this offseason, the San Francisco 49ers were left with a hole at slot cornerback following the departure of longtime veteran starter K'Waun Williams, who played five seasons with the team before joining the Denver Broncos on a one-year deal.

Fast-forward two months and the 49ers do not have an apparent solution to the vacancy, with general manager John Lynch openly stating that there would be an open competition for the position.

"I think what [defensive coordinator] DeMeco [Ryans] did on that staff last year, we were hurting at corner a large part of the year, to finish third in the league was pretty, a testament to DeMeco, his staff and to our players and we felt like we needed to add. You can't have enough good ones," Lynch said. "We had an open spot at nickel that we're going to let a bunch of people compete for and we think Womack will go into that competition as well."

On Tuesday, during the first day of organized team activities (OTAs) available to the media (second day overall), the 49ers started veteran Darqueze Dennard with the first team, alongside outside cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Charvarius Ward, as well as safeties Jimmie Ward and Talanoa Hufanga.

Is it an issue that a 30-year-old cornerback who was on practice squads for the majority of the 2021 season is the starter to begin the offseason?

The quick answer is no.

While Dennard played in just one game for the 49ers in 2021, he was chosen over then-rookie Deommodore Lenoir to be active during San Francisco's Week 18 win over the Los Angeles Rams, in which Dennard played in 32% of the defensive snaps.

Of the players on the roster from last season, Dennard might be the early favorite to win the slot cornerback battle, and Kyle Shanahan added on Tuesday that the veteran defensive back surprised him with his level of play at the end of last season.

"Yeah, [Dennard] showed me more last year than I expected. Anytime you bring someone in that late there's not a ton of choices at that time. And to have someone like him who has had the career he's had and done some things like he has, I knew the name. But for him to come in and to throw him at that nickel position, which he was a little new to him, we could just tell. We had a number of guys get sick, when it was [Denver Broncos CB] K'Waun [Williams] with COVID, our whole secondary with COVID for the Rams game," Shanahan said. "Just watching him take those reps all week, we were ready to go with him if those guys didn't come back. I think it ended up being [CB] Dontae [Johnson] who came back the day before, but we were excited last year and to have him here throughout the whole offseason, not just the end of last year, being able to work with him in phase one and phase two and the two practices today, he's shown he's got a chance."

Other potential options in the slot, including fifth-round pick Samuel Womack, undrafted free agent Qwuantrezz Knight, and veterans Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson, are either unknowns at the position in a starting capacity at the NFL level or injured currently.

Womack, who played primarily outside corner during rookie minicamp, was seen at both outside and slot cornerback during the OTA session Tuesday. Knight flashed on Tuesday, ending practice with the only interception of the day off rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. Verrett is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in Week 1 of last season, and is hopeful to be cleared by training camp, per head coach Kyle Shanahan. Johnson is the swiss army knife of the defense, having played at both cornerback positions, as well as safety last season.

Dennard could be the starter up until training camp begins, but the slot cornerback position will certainly be a battle to watch in training camp, with several names in the mix to potentially start for the 49ers in 2022.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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