Kyle Shanahan Explains Lack of Snaps for Rising 49ers Defensive Back

Kyle Shanahan

Getty Kyle Shanahan during the 49ers' Week 3 game on September 25, 2022.

There was one forgotten battle involving the San Francisco 49ers that resurfaced as a topic of discussion during a conference call on Monday, September 26.

That battle was not on the offensive side of the football, which rules out Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance. But it involved the defense and who was going to play an integral spot that needed to be filled: The slot cornerback.

Many believed that rookie fifth rounder Samuel Womack Jr. was the front runner, particularly following a breakout preseason that eventually convinced the 49ers to part ways with the original front runner for the nod Darqueze Dennard. But in the 11-10 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, September 25, Womack was not seen as CB3 and was given lesser snaps against the AFC West foe…only two snaps to be exact per Pro Football Focus.

Instead, the 49ers opted to roll with 2021 fourth rounder Deommodore Lenoir for 35 plays including 29 in coverage situations at that spot. Head coach Kyle Shanahan explained why.

Reason for ‘D-Mo’ Over Womack

Lenoir’s snap count against the Broncos was significantly higher than his Week 1 total: One play on defense in that game versus Chicago.

It’s also the most action he’s had since Week 13 against the Seattle Seahawks on the road from his rookie season, when he was on the field for 26 plays.

Shanahan, though, detailed the reason why “D-Mo” got more extensive playing time against the likes of Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton while Russell Wilson was trying to distribute the ball.

“We just liked how he’s been looking,” Shanahan said to reporters. “We were trying to put the best people out there that we think gives us the best chance to win, and just from the last few weeks, and watching him practice and everything, we felt that was D-Mo, and I was real happy with how he played too. I thought he was one of the better guys out there last night.”

The choice to go with the second-year defensive back turned out to be one of Lenoir’s better outings of his young NFL career.

Per PFF, Lenoir had coverage matchups with four Bronco wideouts including the aforementioned leaders of the receiving unit. Lenoir didn’t allow both of them or his other two receiving assignments to surpass 20 yards receiving. Here’s a final tally:

  • Sutton: One catch for five yards on one Wilson target.
  • Jeudy: The most targeted receiver on Lenoir’s side with three passes his direction, but was limited to two catches for 17 yards.
  • Javonte Williams: Held to one catch, and lost two yards facing Lenoir.
  • Albert Okwuegbunam: The tight end caught just one pass for 12 yards facing the versatile DB — and it wasn’t good enough for a first down.

Lenoir ended his evening surrendering the fewest yards among the cornerback group. Charvarius Ward allowed four grabs for 43 yards while Emmanuel Moseley surrendered four catches for 66 yards. None of the three allowed a touchdown pass. Lenoir was one of three 49er defenders who finished with five tackles plus added the tackle for a loss and swatted one throw for the pass breakup.

Other Changes Coming to Secondary?

There could be more roster changes for the 49ers in the secondary.

Per Jennifer Lee Chan of NBC Sports Bay Area, safety Jimmie Ward and cornerback Jason Verrett are eligible to return this week.

Both have been nursing injuries — Ward with a hamstring injury since the preseason and Verrett with his torn ACL from 2021 — and in the process Talanoa Hufanga has emerged as a hard-nosed defender at safety and fan favorite while Lenoir got extensive time.

Of the two, Ward’s return would be the most beneficial considering who’s upcoming for the 49ers: The Los Angeles Rams at home on Monday Night Football. Ward snatched two interceptions including a pick six in last season’s 31-10 romp.

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