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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Wilks pleased with Isaiah Oliver, calls 49ers’ nickel depth a luxury

Aug 21, 2023 at 3:22 PM--

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Isaiah Oliver wasn't lined up at the nickel cornerback spot when the San Francisco 49ers starting defense took the field on Saturday night against the Denver Broncos. In fact, Oliver, a free-agency acquisition in March, wasn't anywhere on the field. Deommodore Lenoir was lined up in the slot, with Ambry Thomas manning one of the outside spots.

A week earlier, Oliver emerged as one of the lowest-graded 49ers defenders in the preseason opener against the Las Vegas Raiders, per Pro Football Focus. He was targeted four times, giving up four receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown, earning an overall grade of 30.1.

Oliver had a better outing against the Broncos, giving up only one catch for 18 yards. His Pro Football Focus grade of 65.9 was a significant improvement.

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks reiterated what head coach Kyle Shanahan has recently stated. There is an open competition to find Jimmie Ward's replacement at nickel.

"I'm very pleased with where we are," Wilks told reporters after Monday's practice. "And just to indulge a little bit of information, and don't get in the habit of listening to this or thinking that I'm going to do this every time, but we're very pleased with where Oliver is. We brought him in for a reason.

"This league is all about matchups, so I've never been a part of anything like this, to have this kind of depth. I've been on teams where we're waiting to see exactly, in the last preseason game, who gets cut, and everybody's looking at this particular team trying to pull from [it].

"So to have the options that we have, not only at the nickel position but across the board, linebackers as well as D-line, is a luxury. And again, with the matchups that we're going to face, Oliver is going to be in there, Demo (Lenoir) may be in there, based off who we're playing.

"We continue to just try to find a perfect mix. So I think that's the key thing, and that's the reason why you saw Demo in there last week."

Matchups will be key for the 49ers defense during the regular season. Who starts at nickel cornerback any given week will depend on those matchups. It doesn't sound like the coach will depend on just one player in that spot throughout the season.

"Think about the league and how it's made up," Wilks said. "It's no utopia. So for us to be able to have balance right there is critical. I wouldn't put Demo on a tight end. We may want to go nickel with 12 Personnel. I'm not going to put Demo on a tight end. Oliver is going to be on that other tight end. There's going to be certain matchups in the slot right there based off who that guy may be. I'm not going to put Oliver in that situation. Demo may be that guy.

"So there's teams that don't have this flexibility. I think it's a luxury."

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