There might not be a more scrutinized group on the San Francisco 49ers roster than the secondary. There's Richard Sherman followed by a handful of corners and safeties who offer promise, but not to the point where fans are willing to take it to the bank.
And yet, San Francisco is betting that added competition at both positions will benefit all players involved. Apart from signing veteran corner Jason Verrett, the 49ers will go to battle in 2019 with the same cast from a season ago. Jimmie Ward, Adrian Colbert and Ahkello Witherspoon are a trio of names in particular that the 49ers believe will make a jump. Sherman said he understands why and offered all three a vote of confidence.
Let's start with Ward, who has served as the 49ers Swiss Army knife since being drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He's played outside corner, nickel corner and free safety. Obviously health has been Ward's biggest issue (he's missed 29 games in five seasons), but Sherman suggested that his versatility has actually done him somewhat of a disservice.
"Anytime you make a guy a jack of all trades, he masters none," Sherman said. "This year he's getting to master free safety. This is where he's going to be, and he's doing a great job so far."
Sherman praised Ward's detailed approach, "incredible range" and team-first attitude.
"He's a great teammate, he's a great player and he's a great person," Sherman added. "He's a guy who doesn't complain very often. If you said, 'Hey, you're playing d-line today.' He'd be like, 'OK cool, where do I stand?' He's a guy who goes to work, brings his hard hat every day and gets the job done. ... He is a tremendous player."
Colbert and Witherspoon are in similar situations despite playing different positions. Both had strong finishes to their respective rookie campaigns in 2018 before underwhelming as Year 2 players in 2019. Robert Saleh attributed some of their regression to their respective mindsets of "I got this." Sherman called those the three most dangerous words in football.
"It was a humbling experience last year (for them)," Sherman said. "This league humbles you. It exposes everything. You've never 'got it.' I'm nine years in, and I get humbled regardless."
Now he sees Colbert and Witherspoon re-focused entering Year 3. The difference is that they'll have to earn their starting roles after entering as presumed starters in 2018. Colbert will have to beat out Ward at free safety. Witherspoon's top competition will be Verrett and second-year corner Tarvarius Moore.
"I think they have a lot more respect for the way you approach this game and what it takes to play at a high level," Sherman said.
The next month of OTAs and minicamp are merely the prelims. The main event won't begin until training camp opens in late July. But it's still good to hear that, at least according to Sherman, the secondary is trending up heading into 2019.