Marcell Harris

Is 49ers' biggest roster hole safety depth going into 2020 NFL season?

Is 49ers' biggest roster hole safety depth going into 2020 NFL season?

The 49ers don't have many holes on their roster after falling short in Super Bowl LIV. They replaced two key departures -- DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders -- by adding Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Every great team has a weakness, though. So, what's San Francisco's soft spot? ESPN's Football Outsiders believes it's the 49ers' possible lack of safety depth.

Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt round out the 49ers' starting safeties, but they aren't exactly ballhawks. The 49ers were the only team in the NFL last season whose safeties failed to record an interception, and they were in the bottom five in tackles at the position, ESPN notes. 

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Ward only has two interceptions through six seasons while Tartt has three in five years. Behind them are Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris, neither which are proven players quite yet. 

And then there are the health concerns. Ward has started 10 games or more just twice in his career, and Tartt has done so once. After playing 16 games last season -- including the playoffs -- Ward is focused on ways to keep his body healthy

“I’m trying to avoid soft-tissue injuries,” Ward recently told Bay Area reporters. “Breaking bones, and this and that, hopefully, I stay healthy, but that can happen. But soft-tissue injuries, I can avoid that by yoga and just working out and putting the right things in my body.”

[RELATED: Should Kittle look to CMac as example for next contract?]

The 49ers also signed an intriguing undrafted free agent in former Alabama safety Jared Mayden. As a senior last season, Mayden led the Crimson Tide with four interceptions while playing all around the field.

Safety very well might be the 49ers' weak link, however, it's clear the 49ers shouldn't have too much to worry about. The top-four players at the position have experience over the last few seasons, and perhaps the front office found a hidden gem after the draft.

49ers injury report: Marcell Harris to start in place of Jaquiski Tartt

49ers injury report: Marcell Harris to start in place of Jaquiski Tartt

BRADENTON, Fla. – Marcell Harris on Sunday will be back where he ended his rookie season with the 49ers.

Harris will take over as the 49ers’ starter at strong safety with Jaquiski Tartt out for at least one game after sustaining cracked ribs in the team’s 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.

Tartt and backup defensive tackle Jullian Taylor (elbow) have been ruled out for the 49ers’ game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Two of the 49ers’ seldom-used wide receivers, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, are listed as questionable, along with left tackle Joe Staley. Goodwin has knee and foot issues, according to the team, while Pettis has already missed one game with a knee injury.

Staley has missed three games after surgery to repair a fractured and dislocated finger. He is expected to play Sunday.

All other 49ers players, including Dee Ford and Richard Sherman, will be available for Sunday’s game.

Harris started the final five games of his rookie season after being a sixth-round draft pick from Florida in 2018. He did not earn a spot on the team’s 53-man roster at the beginning of this season. Harris was promoted from the practice squad in October and has appeared in nine games this season.

“I’m real happy for Marcell,” coach Kyle Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3). “He’s gone come a long way, in that he was a very good college player, tore his Achilles his senior year, which really hurt him. That’s why we were able to get him in the draft. It affected him his whole rookie year.

"He’s been able to string together about eight months where he has been healthy, and when you’re made of the right stuff, you have the talent and you can stay healthy, you usually just need the time.”

Harris took over for Tartt on Sunday and made one of the top plays in the game when he took the ball away from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on a running play to create a turnover.

[RELATED: Sanders has been valuable resource for 49ers' young WRs]

49ers injury report

Out
S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs)
DT Jullian Taylor (elbow)

Questionable
WR Marquise Goodwin (knee, foot)
WR Dante Pettis (knee)
T Joe Staley (finger)

Five 49ers to watch in Week 14 vs. Saints: Joe Staley rested but rusty

Five 49ers to watch in Week 14 vs. Saints: Joe Staley rested but rusty

BRADENTON, Fla. – The stakes are raised again this week, as the 49ers face the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a showdown of two of the three teams in the NFC with 10-2 records.

After the 49ers’ Week 13 loss to the Ravens, the club spent the week practicing at the IMG Academy to remain acclimated to the time change and feel rested and energized for the early kickoff in New Orleans.

Coach Kyle Shanahan remains impressed with the consistent approach his team has exhibited this season.

“They’ve made my job very easy,” Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3). “They’re all pros. It’s important to them. And now, as it even gets tighter and you get closer to the playoffs, that’s really the last of my concerns -- these guys being ready for the games.

“They know what this is about. They know how hard we’ve worked to get here. No one wants to waste this opportunity that we’ve earned, so we got to keep playing. We know we got a good team. I just want guys to come out and not worry about anything. Just go as hard as you can, play like we’re capable. If we play with a clear mind and play hard, like I know we will, I’m pretty confident some good things will happen.”

Good things figure to happen for the 49ers on Sunday against the Saints if they get strong games from these five players to watch. 

5. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo is coming on strong for the 49ers. He has compiled passer ratings of 110 or better in the past three games, and he has gone two games without throwing an interception.

Garoppolo and the entire offense will be challenged as they contend with the noise inside the Superdome on Sunday. Garoppolo must be decisive with his reads and decisions in order to avoid pressure coming from Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, one of the top edge rushers in the business.

The 49ers will try to get the run game going with some combination of Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. The better the 49ers run the ball, the more effective Garoppolo should be in using play-action to get the ball down the field.

4. SS Marcell Harris

Second-year player Marcell Harris stepped in when starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt sustained cracked ribs Sunday in Baltimore. Harris immediately made a big play when he tore the ball away from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to create a takeaway.

Harris will have responsibilities against the run Sunday, as an eighth defender in the box on certain occasions. Also, he will be challenged in pass coverage when the Saints flood the field with wide receivers.

Harris and free safety Jimmie Ward must work well together to prevent Saints quarterback Drew Brees from hitting on big plays if the 49ers’ pass rush does not get home.

3. WR Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders has not been anywhere close to 100 percent for a while, as he’s been dealing with a fracture in his rib cage. This was the first week that he was not required to wear a blue jersey at practice, which signifies a player who is off-limits for contact.

While Garoppolo has been coming on strong and playing well, Sanders’ production took a dip after his injury. In six games with the 49ers, he has 21 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns. In his second game with the club, he had seven catches for 112 yards before sustaining the ribs injury a week later against the Seahawks.

Rookie Deebo Samuel has elevated his game, giving Garoppolo another trusted target. But as Sanders gets healthier, he has the ability to once again establish himself as the top wideout option.

2. LB Fred Warner

Fred Warner was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, as he made his presence felt both in the run game and as a pass defender. He is as good as there is at being an all-around linebacker.

This will be another tough challenge for Warner, as he will be matched throughout the game on Saints star Alvin Kamara, one of the league’s top dual-threat running backs. Kamara is equally dangerous as a runner and receiver.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has simplified Warner’s responsibilities as the defensive play-caller in the huddle this season, which has enabled Warner to just play football.

“Ever since kind of the midway point of the season, I think he has lined it up for me to just go out and play fast,” Warner said.

[RELATED: Shanahan compares Sherman's recovery to 'The Karate Kid']

1. LT Joe Staley

Six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley is back for the 49ers after missing nine of the team’s first 12 games with a fractured left lower leg and then a fractured and dislocated ring finger on his right hand that required surgery.

Staley returns for the stretch run of the season. He should be fresh and energized for the final four regular-season games and the playoffs. That could be a good thing. But Staley also is realistic enough to understand the considerable disadvantage of sitting out all those games.

“I missed out on two months of reps, two months of practices, two months of being on the details,” Staley said. “That’s what makes you good. It’s not just saving yourself for the playoffs. I missed out on a lot of work.”

Staley did not fare well when he returned for the team’s Nov. 11 game against Jadeveon Clowney and the Seahawks. And things are not going to be much easier Sunday, as the 49ers must deal with the noise inside the Superdome.

He will go up against impressive second-year player Marcus Davenport, mostly, while also seeing some of Jordan, who leads the Saints with 13.5 sacks.