The competition among a crowded group of cornerbacks will heat up when the 49ers report to training camp in late July.
During the team’s nine-week offseason program, veteran Tramaine Brock appeared to only strengthen his grip on a starting job.
“He’s one guy who’s really jumped out to me,” 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley said.
Brock won the starting job in 2014, but he was limited to just three games after sustaining a hyperextended big toe in the season opener. Last season, Brock started a career-high 15 games.
“Brock’s done a really good job," Hafley said. "I think he’s completely bought in. His work ethic on the field has been outstanding. And he’s been great in the classroom. He’s been a true pro. So for me to come in with a new group and to have the older guy in the room set that standard, it’s been awesome.”
Brock, 27, who enters his seventh NFL season, is the one veteran surrounded by young cornerbacks on the 49ers’ 90-man roster. Jimmie Ward practiced at right cornerback for most of the offseason program while Brock held down the left side with the first team.
Ward and fellow 2014 draft picks Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker, as well as rookies Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson and Prince Charles Iworah will compete for roster spots and playing time. Redmond did not practice this spring as he rehabs from a torn ACL.
“You let it sort out itself by competition,” Hafley said. “That’s the thing, and I tell the guys all the time, it doesn’t matter where you are right now on the depth chart. Don’t worry about it. Just go out, play and compete. We’re going to find the best guys and we’re going to find ways to get the best guys on the field.
“Certain guys have taken the competition and they have gotten better, and other guys haven’t.”
The 49ers have not settled on Ward being moved permanently to cornerback after he was drafted as a safety and won the job as the team’s nickel back in his first two seasons.
“If I can train him at corner, it’s going to prepare him to play other positions that might not be as taxing physically,” Hafley said. “He’s getting a lot of reps right there to help him out with all the man coverage and stuff. But we’re going to play him where he best fits.
“I think he’s such a good athlete and he’s so versatile, I think you’re going to see him all over the place. Our division alone is going to have a lot of matchup issues. He gives us a little bit of an answer to the matchup issues because he can do so many different things.”
Hafley said the 49ers could use different personnel in the defensive backfield on a week-to-week basis, depending on that week’s matchup. After all, the 49ers are not going to defend Los Angeles Rams receiver Tavon Austin in the slot the same way they would scheme against Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald or Seattle tight end Jimmie Graham.
“Right now there’s a ton of competition,” Hafley said. “We got a lot of good football players. We need to figure out the best spots to put our best players. That’s our job as coaches.”