Jimmie Ward

Tarvarius Moore ready to challenge for 49ers' starting free safety job

Tarvarius Moore ready to challenge for 49ers' starting free safety job

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Four days into training camp, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh offered a stark assessment of Tarvarius Moore's short-term possibilities.

“He’s by no means even close to being an NFL-ready safety by Week 1,” Saleh said.

Two weeks later, Moore is getting noticeably closer to being capable of holding down a key role in the 49ers’ defense for the start of the regular season.

“He’s made tremendous strides from just getting aligned, being more vocal, giving out alerts, talking to the linebackers, talking to the safeties, talking to the corners, even talking to the D-Line which he has to do at safety,” Saleh said of Moore on Friday after the 49ers’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos. “ ... He hasn’t scratched the ceiling yet, so he’s got to continue working. Every single rep there’s something new for him and he’s definitely going in the right direction, so I’m pumped for him.”

The 49ers are taking their time bringing along Jimmie Ward after he fractured his collarbone during the offseason program in June. Two weeks ago, Moore moved past Adrian Colbert on the depth chart at free safety. Now, he has put himself in position to supplant Ward, too.

Moore was a third-round draft pick from Southern Mississippi in 2018. He spent his entire rookie season at cornerback before moving back to safety following Ward’s injury.

On Wednesday, he intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo twice during a three-play sequence. On Friday, he intercepted Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco on a pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders.

[RELATED: Projecting 49ers' 53-man roster before preseason Week 2]

Ward has been cleared to return to practice, but the 49ers are bringing him back slowly. His time as a spectator has allowed Moore an opportunity to open some eyes. And Moore certainly is giving the 49ers’ coaching staff something to think about.

“It’s definitely something to talk about,” Saleh said. “Tarvarius had the door open. We always talk about, if you get your foot in the door, it’s your job to blow that thing open. He’s doing a good job. He’s going to make it very difficult.”

How 49ers' Tarvarius Moore embraces challenge of moving back to safety

How 49ers' Tarvarius Moore embraces challenge of moving back to safety

SANTA CLARA -- Tarvarius Moore’s new position with the 49ers isn’t exactly new to him.

Moore is playing safety in his second training camp with the team after playing cornerback as a rookie in 2018. He was a safety in college at Southern Mississippi and moved back to the role this offseason after Jimmie Ward fractured his collarbone.

That doesn’t mean the transition back to the 22-year-old’s natural position is without growing pains.

"Of course it's an adjustment from college to the NFL,” Moore said Thursday. “So [I'm] just working on my details and things like that that the coaches have been stressing to me, just trying to put my best foot forward."

Doing so ensured Moore stood out during Thursday’s practice. During his first-team reps in the secondary, he was responsible for what were the standout defensive plays of the 49ers’ 11-on-11 sessions.

Moore intercepted a Jimmy Garoppolo pass intended for Dante Pettis during red-zone work, stepping in front of the wide receiver as he cut to the inside. Later, Moore broke up a deep ball thrown to tight end George Kittle along the left sideline, providing help to linebacker Kwon Alexander after Kittle gained outside leverage.

An awareness of Alexander's responsibilities have come with the territory of playing safety, according to Moore, as he said he now must know the assignments of every level of the 49ers’ defense. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon thinks Moore is picking up on those details well.

“He's improving,” Witherspoon said. “He's really focusing on what it takes to make those plays, and he had a few plays today that you could kind of see how gifted he is naturally. Combined with that focus and that approach, he has a good opportunity to be a helluva player."

The 49ers host the Dallas Cowboys in their preseason opener Saturday, and Moore’s progress will be tested. That will be his first look in his old, familiar position against an opponent wearing a uniform other than his own.

Just over a week ago, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Moore still had a long way to go in order to be “an NFL-ready safety by Week 1.” Moore has improved since then, however, and he credited feedback from his teammates and working with the coaching staff before and after practices in helping him go back to playing safety.

He ultimately feels the position change reflects the team’s belief in him.

“I feel like they wouldn't put me in any position I won't succeed at, so [I'm] taking the challenge with just a clear-eyed view,” Moore said. “Just going in, optimistic about everything and ... trying to work as hard as I can to prove 'em right."

[RELATED: What Verrett ankle injury means for 49ers' Witherspoon]

Moore embraced the idea of playing a new position last season, and said Thursday he was happy to play anywhere in the defensive backfield. He has taken the same approach returning to a familiar one during his second training camp, allowing him to fill in during Ward’s absence.

If Moore continues to improve, he might end up staying there, too.

2019 NFL Supplemental Draft: Why 49ers might target safety Jalen Thompson


2019 NFL Supplemental Draft: Why 49ers might target safety Jalen Thompson

Only three players have been selected in the NFL supplemental draft since 2013. However, two of those came just last year, and when the league holds the 2019 Supplemental Draft on Wednesday, there's a decent chance at least two players could be selected, one of which could be of interest to the 49ers.

A little background: The supplemental draft is an option for draft-eligible players who did not declare for the regular NFL draft in April. Typically, players who declare for the supplemental draft do so due to unexpected eligibility issues at the collegiate level, such as those related to academics or discipline.

If a team selects a player in the supplemental draft, it forfeits its pick in that same round in the following NFL draft in April. For example, the New York Giants selected cornerback Sam Beal in the third round of the 2018 supplemental draft, and thus forfeited their third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

If the 49ers are going to select anyone in the 2019 Supplemental Draft on Wednesday, chances are it will be Washington State safety Jalen Thompson, who represents the most talented player available according to The Athletic's Dane Brugler.

Thompson is coming off a junior season in which he tallied 67 tackles, 10 passes defended and two interceptions. His sophomore season, he led the Cougars with 73 tackles and four picks. He's got great speed and athleticism, but at just 186 pounds, is on the smaller side for his position. Nonetheless, he doesn't shy away from physicality, but that can occasionally hamper his ability to wrap up.

Brugler compares Thompson to former Lions' Pro Bowl safety Glover Quin, and projects him to go in the third or fourth round of the 2019 Supplemental Draft on Wednesday and eventually ascend to starter level.

"If his character checks out," Brugler qualified, "Thompson is a player who can compete for a nickel role early in his NFL career and all the ingredients are there for him to be starting by Year Two."

Could Thompson be a fit for the 49ers? From a positional standpoint, at least, it certainly seems so.

Despite a loaded free-agent safety class and a draft class filled with promising prospects at the position, San Francisco declined to select a safety in the 2019 NFL Draft after re-signing Jimmie Ward to a one-year deal. Of course, the oft-injured Ward didn't take long to make that decision look questionable at best after he broke his collarbone in the first week of OTAs

Former seventh-round draft pick Adrian Colbert is the back-up free safety on the roster, but he didn't exactly inspire confidence with his performance last season. Behind Colbert is Tarvarius Moore, who just made the positional change to safety after spending his rookie season at cornerback.

[RELATED: Moore back at safety after playing rookie year at corner]

So, yes, the 49ers could use an influx of talent, youth and health at the same position Thompson plays. It's uncommon for teams to utilize the supplemental draft, but if San Francisco elects to do so Wednesday, it seems obvious who they'll be targeting, and why.