Strong safety battle comes into focus for 49ers
The 49ers need to find out who will start at strong safety alongside Jimmie Ward this season.
For the last seven years it’s been Jaquiski Tartt, but his one-year free agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles closed the door on his potential return and now the battle at the strong safety spot is clear.
Going into camp it’ll be a three-man race for San Francisco between Tarvarius Moore, Talanoa Hufanga and George Odum. There are a handful of other players on the roster who might fit the strong safety role, but it’s clear that trio consists of the realistic options to earn a starting job by Week 1.
It may not even run that deep.
Odum is a special teams ace and the 49ers may not give him a real shot to start unless he plays exceptionally well or one of the other two struggles. Moore was considered the frontrunner for the starting strong safety job last season before a torn Achilles in OTAs ended his year. He’d be the player most able to replicate what Tartt brought from a versatility standpoint, though he may be a better player in coverage.
Moore was a very good athlete pre-injury, so his chances to start will rely a lot on how he looks in his return from the Achilles tear. If he maintains that athleticism then he’ll combine the size to play in the box with the athleticism to play his natural free safety role when defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans wants to shake up coverages.
Hufanga was a fifth-round pick last season and nearly won the starting strong safety job out of camp. He wound up playing 395 defensive snaps and started three games while playing in a rotational role. He’s not the athlete Moore is, but despite that he manages to be around the football a lot. Athletic limitations may keep him from consistently roaming in a free safety role. However, his instincts and knack for playmaking could make him an extremely valuable player near the line of scrimmage.
It may be a scenario where one of Moore or Hufanga starts, while the other gets opportunities in a rotational role or in three-safety looks. Odum will also be in the mix, but if Moore and Hufanga are both playing well then it appears Odum would be limited to a special teams role.
This will be a fascinating position battle to watch play out since there are so many factors at play and such different skill sets involved. The good news for San Francisco is that a logjam of quality players isn't a bad problem to have. They just have to figure out how best to use them.
It would track that Moore is the frontrunner going into training camp, but Hufanga will absolutely be in the mix and it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s lining up as the starter for San Francisco’s defense come Week 1.