Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Kyle Shanahan explains why the late-’49s-season hero hasn’t played much

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The San Francisco 49ers are so strained at cornerback that even a former starter has been lost in the mix.

And this former first stringer is best known for helping salvage the 49ers’ playoff hopes towards the end of the 2021 season – prompting a statement from the head coach who gave him Kyle Shanahan on Wednesday, Oct. 12 helped design it.

Ambry Thomas was noticeably off the lineup for the league’s best defense.

In 2021, the former Michigan third-round rookie managed to get a total of 483 defensive snaps — including 317 plays in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Injuries to Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett helped the 49ers throw in the 6-foot-190-pounder.

But since? He only received eight defensive snaps…all in Week 5 of the Carolina Panthers road.

Why the drop in playing time? Shanahan explained why to reporters who flocked to West Virginia, where the 49ers practice this week ahead of the Atlanta Falcons game.

“He got better over the year, but he just came back to OTAs [organized team activities]back to camp, other guys have passed him and he’s still working hard to come back,” Shanahan explained in reference to Thomas.

Does this mean that his practice habits have changed and that his progress is limited? Shanahan denies that.

“I think he’s made a lot more progress here in the last three weeks than at camp. And especially with the injuries, there will most likely be chances,” Shanahan said. But… “He has a little more competition this year than last year.”

Again, Thomas became an emergency filler for a CB unit that was then dealing with the injury bug – specifically Verrett with a cruciate ligament tear and Moseley with a high ankle sprain.

Thomas got off to a rough start, giving up 92 and then 95 yards and receiving his side in games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Falcons, respectively, according to Pro Football Reference Advanced Stats. He also allowed his side touchdowns in both games.

However, the mileage decreased after the two games. And he became popular among the 49ers Faithful for pulling this off against rival Los Angeles Rams with a playoff berth on the line:

But now, in 2022, Charvarius Ward has emerged as a top cornerback option with eight pass deflections (second in the NFL) and 14 in the first five games for the fewest receptions allowed among the CBs.

Could Thomas make it onto the starting lineup against the Falcons on Sunday, October 16 if Moseley is out for the year? This clip from NBC Sports Bay Area shows Verrett on his way back.

However, The Athletic’s David Lombardi believes the 49ers won’t rush him when he answers a fan’s question because the Falcons’ Mercedes Benz Dome has a sprint turf – the same surface that led to Moseley’s cruciate ligament rupture and the other myriad injuries against the Panthers has led .

“For that reason, Jason Verrett could be more likely to make a return against Kansas City on firm grass at Levi’s the following week, which would still be within his three-week return window from the IR.” Lombardi answered. “We’ll see what the 49ers do with Spot 53.”

It could mean some action for Thomas. Still, Shanahan likes the fact that there’s more depth and talent to the CB spot this time.

“Last year, that was our biggest concern,” Shanahan said. “We knew how thin we were in the rookies. and then losing Verrett in that first game was tough. So we had to go to vets immediately. We’ve had the injuries this year but we’ve got some rookies who got experience last year and we brought some guys with us too and I like our draft picks too so we have a little more depth which helps.

“For that reason, Jason Verrett could be more likely to make a return against Kansas City on firm grass at Levi’s the following week, which would still be within his three-week return window from the IR.” Lombardi answered. “We’ll see what the 49ers do with Spot 53.”



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