The 49ers’ first batch of roster cuts had one semi-surprising inclusion. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who appeared to be the frontrunner for the starting nickel cornerback job, was let go ahead of Tuesday’s cut-down deadline.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan on Wednesday in his post-practice press conference was asked why Dennard was let go. The first-team reps, it turns out, were more a product of his veteran status than his leg up in the running for the starting spot.
“We didn’t think he was going to earn that spot,” Shanahan said. “Whether he is out there with the ones or not, no one really is slotted that way, except for the depth charts we have to give you guys before preseason. So we wanted to give him opportunities, being the vet and with younger guys coming in, but we got to see enough where we felt the younger guys were going to have a chance, so we want to give them some reps. And Dennard’s been awesome for us when he helped last year stepping in, in that game. He was a good player for us this offseason. And we’ll see how these guys do and if doesn’t work out, hopefully someday can come back.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the 49ers added Dennard to their practice squad if he’s still available when rosters are trimmed to 53. He originally joined the club ahead of Week 18 last year and wound up playing 21 defensive snaps in that game. He was inactive in two playoff contests, but contributed on special teams in the divisional playoff win in Green Bay.
With Dennard no longer with the club, there was immediate speculation that rookie CB Samuel Womack snagged the job following a two-interception performance in the preseason opener. Shanahan didn’t outright confirm Womack had won the job, but he’s the clear frontrunner.
“Yeah, [CB Samuel] Womack [III],” Shanahan said. “I think everyone saw him during the game and he did a real good job. He’s done a decent job in practice too. We have some safeties who we can mix there also. So there’s still some competition, but yeah, we’ve been happy with how he’s been so far.”
The competition for that starting job isn’t particularly fierce, especially with injuries in the secondary forcing the 49ers to move some pieces around. Dontae Johnson is also out with fractured rib cartilage, which takes one player who might push Womack out of the running.
San Francisco selected Womack in the fifth round in this year’s draft out of Toledo where he was a team captain and team-leader in pass breakups three years in a row. If he can start and play effectively, it’d be another huge Day 3 draft win for the 49ers’ front office.