49ers’ Darrell Luter Jr. Has Same Scheme Advantage as Azeez Al-Shaair

San Francisco 49ers, Darrell Luter Jr.

Getty Future San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks talking to one of his players.

After saying goodbye to Emmanuel Moseley in free agency, the San Francisco 49ers have a hole at the perimeter cornerback spot opposite Charvarius Ward.

Though some have suggested the job is Deommodore Lenoir’s to lose, as he took over for Moseley down the stretch in 2022, there’s a growing excitement surrounding rookie cornerback Darrell Luter Jr., the cornerback out of South Alabama John Lynch drafted with one of his fifth-round picks.

Sitting down for an interview with of Niners Nation, Luter Jr.’s college defensive coordinator, Corey Batoon, noted that Luter may have an easier path to the field than most Day 3 defensive backs, as the scheme he runs is the same one Azeez Al-Shaair played in when he was a coach at FAU and thus, translates well with what Kyle Shanahan likes to do defensively.

“I think the biggest thing you see out of him is that he is a system fit for the 49ers. They are running a lot of the read thirds coverage that we run. I have another former player, Azeez [Al-Shaair] played for me at FAU and he is another guy who plugs in and plays because it’s the same coverage system, a lot of the same terminology, a lot of the same packaging,” Batoon said.

“That’s where I see a lot of the benefit with Lute, he’s going to be going into there and our base coverages are the Niners base coverages, so when they see him using the techniques, when they see him with his eye progressions and his reads, they’re looking at the same things that they are teaching. I think thats where when all things are equal, you take a guy who has played in that system for two years I think it helps hedge your bet a little bit.”

In the NFL, there aren’t a lot of rookie cornerbacks drafted in the fifth round who see excessive action as a rookie unless something really goes right or wrong. The position is too easily exploited by opposing offenses, coverage assignments can take months or even longer to master, and having to jump from the college ranks to the NFL, especially when a player doesn’t play for a Power Five school like Alabama, can be daunting. Luter’s experience playing in a scheme with similarities to the one the 49ers have made their bread and butter under Shanahan could give the rookie a clear advantage over most, and may ultimately lead some to call the 23-year-old the steal of the draft if he ends up starting like Al-Shaair did before him.

Lance Zierlein Considers Darrell Luter Jr. a Cover 3 Corner

Revisiting Luter’s profiles from before the draft, Lance Zierlein predicted that the South Alabama cornerback wouldn’t be drafted until the fifth or sixth round, but did note that he could be an effective player in a “press-and-shadow” scheme, which is what Steve Wilks used in Carolina and throughout his coaching career.

“Long-limbed press-cover cornerback with the ball skills and physicality to challenge receivers outside the numbers,” Zerlein wrote. “Luter can be a little leggy in his transitions and burst to the football, but his length helps make up for that and creates pass breakups. Louisiana-Monroe attacked him with back-shoulder throws all game, which is something to keep an eye on in the pros. He’s going to be more effective in press-and-shadow coverage than he is playing Cover 3 or off-man. His ball production dipped in 2022, but his length and playing style fit the NFL game.”

Considering Wilks has already mentioned that he plans on deploying more man coverage concepts in 2023 than the 49ers deployed in years past, having a corner like Luter could prove useful regardless of whether or not he starts or ends up coming off the bench.

Corey Batoon Studies the 49ers’ Defense

Whether coaching at South Alabama or during his time at FAU, Batoon has long been a fan of the 49ers’ defensive scheme under Shanahan, so much so that he actually teaches it to his players now, as he detailed in his interview with Elliott.

“The 49ers base press technique, that’s what we use. We use the same technique, we are not an inch back team, we are a kick slide, step replace, pierce step team. So he’s been taught the same stuff he is going to be taught there. I think because of that, when you watch tape, and you go, ‘okay this is the same stuff that we are teaching our guys,'” Batoon said.

“Obviously, they are going to teach it differently and have a little bit of a flair, but he’s very comfortable using the base techniques the 49ers use at the corner position. I think he’s got tremendous confidence in being able to do that technique, and then from an eye progression standpoint, he is going to understand the concepts that they’re talking about.

“So I think the transition should be a lot less than it would be for a guy that’s coming from a cover 2 or a cover 4 type scheme that hasn’t been able to play the eye progressions the way that we do and the same way that the Niners do.”

Regardless of how often Luter plays in 2023 and what role he’s tasked with occupying if he does, it’s interesting to see just how much time the 49ers spent identifying players who fit their scheme and committing resources to put them in a position to succeed. If Luter can hit the ground running in a similar way to Lenoir, another fifth-round pick, before him, the 49ers’ pipeline of Day 3 starting secondary members may continue too.

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