The San Francisco 49ers have canceled the rest of mini-camp following the injuries to defensive back Tarvarius Moore (torn Achilles) and offensive tackle Justin Skule (torn ACL).
Despite their inconsistencies, both Moore and Skule have been key pieces to the 49ers’ depth the last two seasons, and their roles must be replaced.
Moore has filled in for Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt at safety, and has shown a knack for creating turnovers.
Skule started off hot in his 2019 rookie campaign, stepping in for the injured Joe Staley. He was less effective in 2020, but still showed valuable versatility on the line.
Their absences are two more blows to a team that seemingly can’t escape the injury bug.
Neither are household names, but their losses throw a wrench in the 49ers’ plans. Yet after a season in which seemingly every player got hurt, the team spent the past few months counteracting that by acquiring lots of depth. So do they have enough to overcome these losses, and potentially more?
In-house replacements for the third safety include the inconsistent Marcell Harris, special teamer Tavon Wilson, fifth-rounder Talanoa Hufanga, and 2020 undrafted rookie Jared Mayden.
Yet, none of those players have the coverage, speed and turnover potential of Moore.
Harris has been hot and cold with San Francisco. He was much better in 2019, but the lasting memory from 2020 is of Green Bay’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling burning him for a touchdown.
Wilson and Hufanga offer strong special teams upside, but neither are really free safeties. They are better suited for the box.
The biggest issue is that none of these guys can really play single-high safety. Mayden, who has yet to play a defensive snap in the NFL, is the only option on the roster.
Fortunately for San Francisco, its starters, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, have shown exceptional versatility. Both are more than capable of playing the other’s position.
Yet, one of the most dynamic facets of this defense is that both safeties can bounce around the field. Ward and Tartt can play in the box or up top.
The 49ers must go sign a free safety (Richard Sherman or Malik Hooker, anyone?) so their defense can remain versatile.
As for the offensive line, it was essential that Skule grabbed hold of that swing-tackle role. With him gone, the competition is now between Shon Coleman, who opted out last season, and Jaylon Moore, a fifth-round rookie who fits more of a right guard profile.
There is a much more preferable alternative, if Kyle Shanahan is willing.
The 49ers could move Swiss Army Knife Daniel Brunskill, who is currently the top backup on the interior line, back into the swing tackle role he excelled at in 2019.
That move would fortify the outside, while leaving a much easier-to-fill hole on the inside.
As stated above, Jaylon Moore projects as an interior guard. He would compete with Colton McKivitz for the backup role. As for center, free agent Ben Garland would be a solid/cheap re-signing this late in the offseason.
The only thing predictable about injuries is that the 49ers have had a lot and will see a lot more. The best way to counteract that (other than an exorcism) is by building depth that can step in without missing a beat, like Brunskill and Garland did in 2019.
Follow me on Twitter @Mavpallack