The competition is on this week at practice for the San Francisco 49ers.
With Jimmie Ward week-to-week nursing the quadriceps strain that he suffered covering a kick in Week 3, two young cornerbacks will be competing to start in his place when the Dallas Cowboys visit Levi's® Stadium this Sunday.
Keith Reaser got the nod to replace Ward in last week's loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Two weeks ago, Rashard Robinson saw the field as San Francisco's third cornerback.
"Neither one of those guys has won the (backup) job outright," defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said on Tuesday. "If they want it to be week-to-week every week, that's on them. If someone wants to establish themselves … then go do that. I'm all for it."
Both cornerbacks will look to showcase their abilities and earn more playing time against a Dallas offense that features a rookie quarterback and ranks 16th in the NFL passing offense, averaging 250 yards per game.
The opportunity to potentially start against Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and his pass-catchers, a group that includes Pro Bowl wideout Dez Bryant, is not lost on the 49ers defensive backs.
Practice reps must be perfect this week.
"It'll keep you on your toes," said Reaser, who has four tackles and one pass breakup this season. "Every practice counts. Every play matters like its training camp or a game."
Robinson said his mindset won't change.
"(I keep the) same attitude every day," the rookie said. "Every time we take the field, it's a business. When you get in between the lines, everything is strictly business."
Robinson was drafted two spots before Prescott, the very same player he'll be defending on Sunday. Prescott has led the Cowboys to a 2-1 record and is coming off his best performance of the year. The rookie signal-caller completed 19-of-24 passes (79.2 completion percentage) for 248 yards with one touchdown and a quarterback rating of 123.6 rating in a primetime win over the Chicago Bears.
"Not many rookies play, even start, so that's saying a lot right there," Reaser said of the fourth-round pick. "He looks very comfortable like he know what's going on, knows what to do with the ball."
But the real matchup to watch for both potential new starters on the 49ers defense is Bryant, who caught Prescott's 17-yard pass for a touchdown in last week's 31-17 win over the Bears. Since 2011, Bryant has caught 54 touchdowns which ranks second most in the league during that span.
"They have a great group of receivers," Robinson said. "I'm confident in us and our defense, just the secondary alone. We've had some bumps and bruises, but we've put that behind us, and we're ready to go."
Reaser knows Bryant will play a physical brand of football and use his strength at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his routes.
"(We have to) treat him like any other opponent," Robinson said. "Just go out there and play ball. There's nothing to it, just work your fundamentals and go there and play."
-- Colin Kaepernick met with the media on Tuesday. One of the topics the 49ers backup discussed was his playing weight and readiness to play. Kaepernick has been focused on regaining strength after multiple offseason surgeries. Kaepernick has also been intent on adding more weight, which is a challenge given his lean body type. "My strength is still growing, developing," Kaepernick said. "But once again, I'm always going to be prepared, always ready to put it on the line for this team." The sixth-year pro said he remains confident in his playing ability if his number is called.
-- Veteran safety Antoine Bethea was pleased with how his teammates have responded after back-to-back losses. "The morale around the locker room and in our meeting room was positive," he said. "But at the same time, (we are) critiquing ourselves, being critical of ourselves and our play. I really do think that as a team we'll bounce back."
-- Center Daniel Kilgore shared his thoughts on Anthony Davis' retirement with the *San Jose Mercury News. *"When he took a year off, he knew he was missing something, and he thought it was football," Kilgore said. "To quote him, he felt he was a glorified fan. He loved the team and the guys and the perks. But he expressed concerns with his mind and body."