Training Camp Battles Part VII
July 11 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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The 49ers safety scenario has been up in the air for the past few seasons. As Tim McDonald and Merton Hanks departed from the 49ers, the team was left with Lance Schulters and a wild card at safety. The spot along side Schulters has been subject to competition over the past few seasons, but this season, there is no Lance Schulters. Schulters was not heavily pursued by the 49ers as a free agent this off-season. He ended up signing with the Titans. The starting safety spots are secure though, as the 49ers signed strong safety Tony Parrish this season to take over for Schulters, and because Zack Bronson did an incredible job manning the free safety position last season.
The 49ers continue to have a one person turnover at the safety position this season - the new addition to the starting line up being Parrish, but unlike in past seasons, the starting safety positions are secured before the start of training camp. The battle for the remaining two positions however, is expected to be heated.
If John Keith can get healthy, and stay healthy, he’d be the front runner for one of the safety positions. Keith was injured in the 49ers first regular season game last year, as the starting strong safety. Keith has the talent to play in the NFL, heck he has the talent to start, but has been plagued with injury throughout his NFL career.
Also battling for the spot is Ronnie Heard. Hearst filled in nicely last season when given the opportunity. While he’s still somewhat raw, the 49ers have been reporting good things about him this off-season, and with a year’s experience under his belt, he could find him self on the roster for the second consecutive season. Heard can also play cornerback, and that versatility will certainly come in handy.
Also in the mix is rookie Kevin Curtis. Curtis can play both safety positions and is known for his hard hitting. It’s hard to believe the 49ers would waste a draft pick, and not carry him on the roster this season.
There are several scenarios as to how the backup safety position may play out this season. The easiest scenario - though an unfortunate one, would be if Keith can not return to full health. That would leave Heard and Curtis in position. Alternatively, the 49ers may decide to carry Heard, as a cornerback leaving Keith and Curtis as the backup safeties, the 49ers have lots of depth at cornerback though, so this scenario is not highly likely. If all players are healthy at safety, it looks like it will be an all out fight for the final two spots. Winner will certainly take all at safety this summer.