Seven different options took their turn lining up at all three cornerback spots for the San Francisco 49ers inside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota on Saturday, August 20.
But it was a “hyena” being re-unleashed in the defensive backfield for the 49ers and elevating his game in the process.
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Who Stepped up in 49ers’ Secondary
Deommodore Lenoir has gone from someone being involved in a more crowded cornerback room to raising his aggression level during the preseason.
He’s in a unit that added Charvarius Ward during the offseason, brings back veteran Emmanuel Moseley, has fellow second-year CB Ambry Thomas and now features Week 1 preseason standout Samuel Womack following his two-interception debut.
But in the 17-7 road win over the Minnesota Vikings, the “hyena” was in attack mode inside the crystallized venue — earning him a new title from 49ers Rush Podcast creator John Chapman: Best tackling corner.
On that pad-shaking hit delivered by Lenoir, the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder buried tight end Nick Muse…all 6-foot-5, 252-pounds of him.
That wasn’t his only highlight moment of the evening. Per Pro Football Focus, Lenoir was the only member of the 49ers secondary to force an incompletion. He was targeted five times but only surrendered three receptions for 27 yards and receivers only mustered two yards after the catch facing him. Lenoir ended his night as the highest-rated coverage defender by the national analytics site, scoring an 86.1 grade. Lenoir bounced between the left cornerback spot and slid inside to play the nickel position, or slot cornerback.
Lenoir’s night captured the attention of Matt Barrows of The Athletic, who mentioned the Oregon Ducks standout and 2021 fifth rounder as one of the highlight performers from the win. Turns out, Lenoir was among the reasons why the team made the surprise decision to cut ties with the original projected starting slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
“Earlier in the week, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said coaches were comfortable parting ways with veteran cornerback Darqueze Dennard because there were three young players they were excited about at the position,” Barrows began, before naming off Womack, Qwuantrezz Knight and Lenoir.
“He was stride for stride with receiver Bisi Johnson on a deep-ball incompletion in the second quarter, had a strong tackle out of the slot later in the second [on Muse] and broke up a pass in the fourth,” Barrows said while including Lenoir was the third leading tackler on the night. And that “sticky coverage” play on Johnson is below, with Lenoir lined up in the slot.
‘Hyena’ Was Unleashed Before
His hits and coverage from the Vikings win hasn’t been the only highlight of Lenoir’s preseason.
Lenoir only allowed one catch for nine yards on three passes thrown his direction against the Green Bay Packers per PFF. But he also helped set up this Marcelino McCrary-Ball interception as the outside cover cornerback who makes a beeline for the ball then delivered the punishing hit as the ball was deflected.
But his first big pick came in the spring of 2021 — which put the 49ers on notice that they have a valuable option to turn to in the secondary.
It’s an overloaded CB room in the Bay Area. But defensive coordinator Ryans is a believer in Lenoir. Now, it’s looking like the “hyena” is starting to hit his stride and making a strong case to join the two-deep on August 31.