49ers will have open competition to start with Jimmie Ward at safety

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Who starts next to Ward at safety? 49ers to have open competition originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SANTA CLARA -- Jimmie Ward is the undisputed starter at safety for the 49ers, but who plays alongside him is up for grabs.

Safeties coach Daniel Bullocks spoke to local Bay Area media last week, sharing that he is excited for what the new season brings.

“It’s definitely an open competition,” Bullocks said. “We feel like we got guys at the safety position that can come in and start, that have starter experience. They might not have been a full-time starter but they all started.”

The club signed special teams standout George Odum during free agency. The former Indianapolis Colts safety started seven games in 2021. Tarvarius Moore, who missed the 2021 season due to an Achilles injury, has started 13 games. Talanoa Hufanga appeared in 15 games in his rookie season, with three starts.

The club also signed two undrafted free agent rookies -- San Diego State’s Tayler Hawkins and Leon O’Neal from Texas A&M -- to add depth at the position.

Bullocks is impressed with what he has seen from his players after only a few days on the practice field. The improvement he has seen in Hufanga as he enters his sophomore season has stood out.

“The biggest difference I’ve seen so far is his confidence,” Bullocks said. “Having that first year under his belt, that experience, his confidence is through the roof. He is out there communicating better than he ever has. Being that quarterback for the defense getting Jimmie lined up, I’ve seen him take a big step from a communication standpoint.

“Movement skills it seems like he’s quicker. Just a step faster, twitchier. Whatever he did in the offseason training, I know he trained with Troy Polamalu, it seems like it definitely paid off. He’s moving better and playing faster. I’m definitely excited about him.”

The 49ers were hoping that Moore would be ready to return towards the end of the 2021 season, but the fifth-year safety was not far along enough in his recovery from an Achilles injury. Bullocks knows that the veteran might not have recorded many starts, but his experience in the scheme will serve him well.

“He brings speed, versatility, physicality,” Bullocks said. “Just his experience in the system, this will be his fifth year. He’s got that starter experience. Having him back on the field gives us depth. He’s a guy who is capable of starting and competing to start.”

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Bullocks’ goals for the group are simple: eliminate explosive plays through improved communication, and most importantly, increase takeaways into the double digits. The former Detroit Lions safety knows the 49ers left plays on the field last season and they are already working on techniques to change those statistics. For now, the evaluation of who sees the field for the defense has already begun.

“We have guys that we know can come in and start, it’s just a matter of who is going to get that full time starter role,” Bullocks said. “I look forward to the open competition. It’s going to be fun to watch and see who rises to the top.”

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