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Recognizing lack of depth, 49ers workout former Pro Bowl safety



One of the more eye-opening developments from 49ers OTAs has been the team’s lack of veteran depth in the secondary, particularly at the single-high safety position. An injury to Jimmie Ward would thrust an undrafted rookie such as Lorenzo Jerome into a starting spot he’s likely not ready to handle. That could theoretically derail the season.

In what can be deemed a potential insurance policy, Adam Schefter is reporting John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have invited longtime safety Jairus Byrd for a workout at the facility. Byrd was an elite safety earlier in the decade for the Buffalo Bills and signed a record contract with the Saints, but never really panned out in New Orleans. There are definitely reasons the 30-year-old is still on the open market, but he has been to three Pro Bowls.

The 49ers have the cash to plug any potential leaks on the roster. Adding someone such as Byrd or another safety with experience playing Ward’s new position almost seems like a must. In watching the defense during practice, the single-high safety spot is arguably the most important position on the entire field. Jerome has flashed some potential early on, but it’s a little risky betting on him, Don Jones or Chanceller James to be the next man up in Year 1 of a new scheme.

There should be no chastising the 49ers for waiting this long to seek more veteran help. Lynch and Shanahan had an entire roster to rebuild. Sometimes you have to re-think a couple things. OTAs gives you film to discuss potential problems.

While the 49ers are at it, they should also look at some veteran cornerback help. An injury to Rashard Robinson would cause a devastating trickle down — likely enough to pull Ward from safety and back to outside cornerback. Judging by the amount of first-team reps he received, the coaches have been impressed with Keith Reaser. Still, he hasn’t started one game in his career. Asking him to cover Dez Bryant or Odell Beckham Jr. is setting this football team up for failure. San Francisco never really replaced Tramaine Brock after his release for suspicion of domestic violence.

San Francisco reportedly still has close to $70 million in cap space, an unheard of surplus — and one of the more attractive qualities about this job opening. Lynch and Shanahan are forward-thinkers. Both are playing tons of different scenarios out in their heads, making sure this team is equipped with enough resources. Just because Trent Baalke spent high-end draft picks on Ward, Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt doesn’t mean the new regime can’t supply the roster with high-end backups.

The wild card here is rookie Ahkello Witherspoon. If he’s able to turn the corner quickly as a tackler in space, he could leapfrog Reaser on the outside. I’ve always thought it’s rather dangerous to start rookie cornerbacks from Week 1, but in a rebuilding season, the 49ers may be more willing to bet on their own draft pick as opposed to one of Baalke’s holdovers.

If and when the team signs Byrd or someone of his caliber, they’ll tell us this move is all about competition. That they want someone to push Ward, just like they want Malcolm Smith and Reuben Foster to push NaVorro Bowman. In reality, this move is really about depth.

The reality of the situation is that the NFL is war of attrition. Injuries are going to start mounting, and the teams that properly plan for this usually are the ones competing for playoff spots in December.