SANTA CLARA -- Free safety Tarvarius Moore has experienced some difficulties while starting the first three games of the season, 49ers general manager John Lynch acknowledged.
And with Jimmie Ward returning from a broken finger that required surgery, the 49ers face a decision in their defensive backfield on Monday night when the club returns from the bye week to face the Cleveland Browns at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers must consider whether to move Ward into the starting role at the position the 49ers refer to as the “eraser” ahead of Moore, who spent his entire rookie season at cornerback before moving back to his more natural position this offseason.
“Tarvarius Moore, although he’s had his struggles, he’s brought speed to our defense,” Lynch said during an appearance on KNBR. “Now we get Jimmie Ward back.”
Moore started the first three games in place of Ward. He had a key pass breakup at the goal line in Week 1 against Tampa Bay. (Moore dropped the possible interception, which could have turned into a touchdown going the other way.)
But Moore has also taken bad angles that resulted in a 66-yard touchdown pass to Cincinnati’s John Ross and a 76-yard touchdown for Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Ward was projected as the 49ers’ starting free safety before sustaining a fractured finger in practice that required surgery before the regular-season opener. Ward has missed 24 games the past four seasons due to injuries. But the 49ers love his versatility, his fit for the system and how hard he plays.
“Jimmie’s always the wild card because Jimmie can help us at really every single position except for maybe D-Line, but I’m sure he’d find a way to do that,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s healthier now than he has been. He’s been healthy, but his cast has gotten smaller, so it’s a lot easier for him to go this week. He’s got the possibility to play at any spot. We’ll see how practice goes and where we want to put him.”
After the 49ers recorded just two interceptions last season -- the worst single-season mark in the history of the NFL – the only moves the club made in the secondary were re-signing Ward, signing Jason Verrett and drafting Tim Harris. Ward has yet to play. Verrett played just four ineffective snaps before going on injured reserve, and Harris opened the season on IR.
Instead, the 49ers addressed their pass rush, showing that the organization felt strongly about the defensive backs already on the roster – players such as Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt, Emmanuel Moseley, D.J. Reed and Moore.
“We like the pieces,” Lynch said. “I know a lot of people wondered about what we’re going to do there, but I think hopefully the early returns have been good why we were so confident with that group.”