Strong safety is currently vacant for the 49ers.
With Jaquiski Tartt still a free agent, and unlikely to return, the 49ers need to figure out who their starter will be opposite of Jimmie Ward.
For years Tartt has held onto the position firmly. He was a solid and underrated player the past three seasons. If it wasn’t for his extensive injury history and fragility, he most likely remains with the 49ers. Now they must figure out who that starter is. The 49ers will surely hold a competition there between Talanoa Hufanga, Tarvarius Moore, and George Odum. But one of these players will receive initial starting reps in OTAs and into training camp.
So who is primed to be the starting strong safety for the 49ers?
It’s difficult to envision anyone other than Hufanga. When Tartt spent some time on Injured Reserve last season, it was Hufanga who got the nod to start in his place. Not surprising to see the 49ers pushing for that with the hopes of getting him ready. In training camp last year, the 49ers implemented Hufanga here and there as he made quite an impression throughout camp.
However, Hufanga didn’t really impress in his limited action last season. While he is a sure tackler and not bad in coming up to the line of scrimmage, he is awfully slow and lacks eye discipline. There were times when he was the deep safety that he was caught locking onto someone and vacating his zone — most notably against the Vikings. Then there are times when he simply can’t keep up with someone or is too slow to make a play.
Speed is something that is not going to improve with him. It isn’t a teachable trait. What he can improve on is his eye discipline and play-recognition. That can get him to react much sooner and make up for his lack of speed. Sometimes safeties who are fast can feign a lax coverage by a few yards to bait a quarterback into throwing to their area. Hufanga doesn’t have that luxury and is prone to allow a lot of big plays. The 49ers signed Odum on the promise that he’ll be given a chance to compete at safety, but is that just to push Hufanga and make it easy for him to win the job?
Really the only player I see who can knock Hufanga off his inevitable starting role is Tarvarius Moore. He has demonstrated to be a decent starter who has some range and can tackle. His angles to the players were just always errant. However, Moore is coming off of a torn Achilles. Who knows if he’ll even get to what he was or close to it. All signs are pointed to Hufanga starting.
It’ll be rough at first, but how else is he going to learn and get better? Let him make some mistakes and hopefully the 49ers can coach him up to him a sufficient starter and beyond.