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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Jimmie Ward announces ‘best duo in the game’ amid safety competition

Jun 1, 2022 at 12:40 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers opted not to bring back Jaquiski Tartt, who remains a free agent. And it doesn't sound like the team is eager to re-sign the veteran defender.

"We haven't talked to Quaski," general manager John Lynch said in late April. "We haven't gone there yet. We'll see. He's a free agent. We think highly of Quaski. He played a lot of good football for us, and we're grateful for that. Talented, talented dude. He'll play in this league and continue to play at a high level."

The 49ers drafted a safety last year in Talanoa Hufanga. They signed George Odum this offseason. Tarvarius Moore is returning from the Achilles injury that kept him out in 2021. San Francisco also signed two undrafted free agents in Tayler Hawkins and Leon O'Neal. There is competition for playing time next to Ward.

This week, Jimmie Ward seemingly cast his vote for the defense's other starting safety. Ward was mic'd up during practice when Hufanga came over to him and praised his teammate (h/t TheSFNiners). Ward responded by calling him and Hufanga the "best duo in the game."

Whatever Ward's feelings on the depth chart, safeties coach Daniel Bullocks said last week that nothing is certain regarding who will end up playing alongside Ward.

"It's definitely an open competition," Bullocks told NBC Sports Bay Area. "We feel like we got guys at the safety position that can come in and start, that have starter experience. They might not have been a full-time starter, but they all started."

Moore started eight games in 2020, and five before that. Odum started 10 games in four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Hufanga started three games as a rookie in 2021. Although, Ward admits that it feels like the second-year safety started a lot more games than that.

"Damn, it seems like it's six or seven," Ward said last week. "He kept getting in every game, though, so that's probably why. It seemed like he started damn near like 10 games or something. Just him seeing the game last year got him that much more comfortable this year. He's covering. He has great angles in the run fit, and he knows his stuff."

Bullocks agrees that Hufanga's confidence has grown as he prepares to enter his sophomore NFL season.

"The biggest difference I've seen so far is his confidence," Bullocks said of the second-year safety. "Having that first year under his belt, that experience, his confidence is through the roof. He is out there communicating better than he ever has. Being that quarterback for the defense getting Jimmie lined up, I've seen him take a big step from a communication standpoint.

"Movement skills, it seems like he's quicker. Just a step faster, twitchier. Whatever he did in the offseason training—I know he trained with Troy Polamalu—it seems like it definitely paid off. He's moving better and playing faster. I'm definitely excited about him."

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