SANTA CLARA – Jaquiski Tartt started eight games last season as a rookie after 49ers strong safety Antoine Bethea sustained a season-ending injury.
Now, Tartt will be back in a starting role to take over for free safety Eric Reid, who is out for the season with a torn right biceps.
“Losing him is a big loss for our defense because of his leadership ability, his versatility, his playmaking ability," 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said on Tuesday. "It will leave us with an obvious void."
But Tartt will not simply take over for Reid, who was used in a variety of roles in the 49ers’ pass defense. Reid lined up in almost every imaginable spot for the 49ers, and Tartt is not prepared to handle such a wide variety of assignments.
“Tartt is obviously going to step into the safety role, but other guys at other positions are going to have to step up and do some of the jobs he was able to do for us on passing downs,” O’Neil said.
One player who will not change positions is Jimmie Ward, who was drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft as a safety but was converted to cornerback in the offseason.
“I think Jimmie Ward is a corner in our system,” O’Neil said.
Tartt has the size to play close to the line of scrimmage against the run, and he also possesses the cover skills to make plays on the ball, O’Neil said. Tartt played 26 snaps of defense on Sunday against the New England Patriots and helped hold tight end Martellus Bennett to just one reception for 14 yards.
“He’s got great range and ball skills,” O’Neil said of Tartt. “He has a knack for reading the quarterback.
“He did a heck of a job on Bennett in man coverage. He’s a physical guy, can get in the box.”