49ers' under-the-radar free-agent pickups fit into DC Steve Wilks' plan

49ers' under-the-radar free-agent moves fit into Wilks' plan originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The 49ers made two free-agent additions to the secondary who have specific attributes that fit nicely into defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ plan.

The club has a major hole to fill on passing downs after nickel back Jimmie Ward signed with the Houston Texans this offseason. K’Waun Williams held that important role with the club for the previous five seasons.

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Isaiah Oliver was the best available nickel back, according to Wilks, and he figures to compete with Sam Womack and rookie Darrell Luter for the role.

And Wilks did not bring any coaches with him, but he was able to influence the 49ers’ decision to sign veteran safety Myles Hartsfield to serve as a quasi-assistant on the field and in the locker room.

Hartsfield played under Wilks last season with the Carolina Panthers. The 25-year-old played three seasons with the Panthers and started 19 games over the past two campaigns.

“I think it's always important if you can have someone, whether it's a player or coach, that's somewhat familiar with your system or in this situation, your philosophy,” Wilks said.


“He can be an extension of you on the field, coaching the guys, also in the locker room and then also in the classroom. So that was an important factor for me. He's a good football player as well.”

Hartsfield joins a group of safeties that includes presumptive starters Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson, along with rookie Ji’Ayir Brown and backup George Odum.

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Oliver (6 feet, 210 pounds) has a chance to earn a significant role in the 49ers’ defensive backfield after finding his niche covering the slot receiver with the Atlanta Falcons. He started 38 of the 62 games he appeared over the past five seasons. Wilks was familiar with Oliver from being with an NFC South rival.


“We didn't know exactly what was going to happen in free agency with Jimmie," Wilks said of Ward. "And when that (re-signing him) didn't happen, we wanted to make sure that we sort of got the best nickel in free agency, and that's what we went out and did.

“So I'm excited about Oliver. He's long, he's physical, can tackle, can cover. He's going to be a good blitzer for us — everything that we do within this defense.”

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