The 49ers’ depth in the defensive backfield will be tested in the team’s season opener on Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams.
Chris Davis, who won the job as the team’s nickel back, is not expected to be in uniform due to a hamstring injury. Davis' loss is significant because the 49ers expect to have five defensive backs on the field for approximately two-thirds of their defensive snaps.
Coach Chip Kelly indicated the 49ers could move right cornerback Jimmie Ward to the nickel position, which covers the slot receiver. Ward held that role in the 49ers’ defense in his first two NFL seasons.
If Ward slides inside on passing downs, that means Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser or rookie Rashard Robinson would enter the game to assume Ward’s position at cornerback in nickel situations. Reaser is listed as questionable for the game with an ankle injury. Tramaine Brock is the starter at left cornerback.
Kelly singled out Robinson as a candidate to play a major role in the game.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Robinson said. “I’m ready. That’s something I’ve always dreamed about since I was young. The coaches have installed a great defense, and I have a lot of great vets on the field to keep me confident and help me out if I do have a brain fart, which I doubt I’ll have. I’ll be out there ready to go.”
The 49ers selected Robinson in the fourth round, No. 133 overall. He played his first two seasons at LSU, but was suspended for failing to meet academic standards, had other off-field issues, and had not played in 18 months at the time for the 49ers drafted him.
Robinson (6 foot 1, 177 pounds) had a strong training camp and showed no signs of rust. Now, he could play a big role in the 49ers’ defense, using his press man skills to re-route Rams wideouts Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt and disrupt their timing with quarterback Case Keenum.
“You just got to take it as any other game,” Robinson said. “You really can’t go in there thinking too much about it. You have to be a pro. That’s my whole approach to just going in and taking it step-by-step, play-by-play and just having a plan for every play.
“We’re just going to go out there and compete. We’re going out there to show our doubters wrong. As a defense, we’re ready.”