It was supposed to be the Trey Lance Show, but according to former 49ers defensive back Donte Whitner, it was another young player who stole the show during San Francisco’s preseason opener.
Rookie cornerback Samuel Womack came down with two interceptions in the win over the Packers and sealed the starting nickel cornerback position with the performance, according to Whitner. Whitner has seen a star in the making since training camp started.
“Who I do want to talk about is Samuel Womack III, fifth-round pick out of Toledo,” Whitner told Murph & Mac. “He had two interceptions in the first half, and it’s not just those interceptions. It’s the awareness, he looks ready for the league.
“I remember talking to Jennifer Lee Chan and telling her ‘This guy is going to be a star. He’s going to be a starter as a rookie in the nickel,’ which is one of the hardest positions to play on the defense because you have to be tough enough to play in the run, you have to be smart enough to fake out the quarterbacks…”
Whitner then broke down both of Womack’s INTs, each of which showed off different skills.
“The first interception that he had showed phenomenal awareness coming away with the ball and being able to get down,” Whitner began.
“The second one was technical, but it showed me that it’s duplicatable based on the understanding of the defense, his understanding of leverage and being able to take that from practice to the NFL game field.
“They tried to sell a shallow route, which usually makes a young guy jump down and try to cut the route off and then he would’ve been wide open across the middle. He shuffled, stayed square, he got his hands on the wide receiver, and then they ask you to get on the inside hip, turn your head around and expect the ball. Perfect technique, executed perfectly, he’s going to be a rising star in this defense.”
Apparently it’s not just Whitner who thinks Womack will be the starting nickleback on this team. The 49ers cut veteran cornerback Darqueze Dennard this week, a huge vote of confidence for Womack to fill the position left open by K’Waun Williams this offseason.
“With that level of discipline, that level of execution, from the toughest position on the field in the first game you’ve ever played, he has to be the nickelback,” Whitner concluded.
Listen to the full interview below. You can listen to every KNBR interview on our podcast page at knbr.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Catch Murph & Mac weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on KNBR 104.5 / 680 and streaming live on KNBR.com.