The San Francisco 49ers are playing an unfortunate game of musical chairs at the safety position.
On Wednesday, November 30, the Niners signed safety Doug Middleton to round out their practice squad, releasing safety Kai Nacua to make room. However, just a day later San Francisco designated Middleton to the injured reserve list (IR) and resigned Nacua, who has been on and off the team’s active roster over the past two seasons.
The Niners initially inked Nacua in November 2020. He appeared in five regular season games for San Francisco last season and has made one appearance this year after reaching an agreement to remain with the team in February.
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Nacua began his career with the Cleveland Browns in 2017, signed by the team as an undrafted free agent. He played in 16 games that season, starting three of them. He bounced around NFL practice squads for the next two years before landing in the Bay Area.
49ers Light at Safety With Two Players Injured
San Francisco is not desperate for safeties at the moment, but the Niners are light at the position.
Free safety Tavarius Moore ruptured his achilles tendon in early June, was sent to the IR and has been out ever since. Starting free safety and team captain Jimmie Ward is currently healthy but has already missed a start this season — Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals — with a quad injury. Nacua is listed as a free safety and provides a depth chart insurance policy against any injuries Ward might suffer in the future.
The Niners are more solid at the strong safety position, though that has not been the case all season long. Jaquiski Tartt spent three weeks on the IR with a knee injury. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Talanoa Hufanga, a rookie out of the University of Southern California. The fifth-round selection impressed during his shot as a starter and will remain a fixture in the rotation because of it, according to comments made by Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan last month.
“I like Huff a lot. I think he’s played well. Tartt doesn’t automatically get the starting position. Not sitting here trying to replace Tartt, either,” Shanahan told reporters during a media session on Wednesday, November 17, after designating Tartt for a return to the active roster.
“I think Tartt’s played at a high level for us for a number of years and can do a bunch of things. But even before he got hurt, we were trying to get Huff in there too because of what Huff’s brought to the table,” Shanahan continued. “I like how he doesn’t hesitate about anything. You can see it in everything he does and there’s just no hesitation in this game, and that’s what I want.”
Behind Hufanga on the depth chart is Tavon Wilson, who has been hurt much of the season. The strong safety was most recently injured against the Cardinals on Sunday, November 7, when he started in place of the sidelined Ward at the free safety position. The Niners sent Wilson to the IR the following week, where he remains.
Niners Control Destiny in NFC Playoff Push
Despite all their injuries, the Niners’ next-man up mentality has prevailed over the last month. San Francisco has reeled off three wins in a row, and claimed victory in four of its last five outings, to move to 6-5 on the season and back into the NFC Playoff picture.
Next up for the Niners is a road contest against the wilting Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson and company came into the Bay Area in Week 3 and handed the 49ers their first loss of the season by a score of 28-21, but much has changed since then.
While the Niners have returned to their winning ways of 2019, when the team made it all the way to Super Bowl Sunday, the Seahawks have struggled mightily. Seattle has lost its last four games, including six of its last seven, on the way to last place in the NFC West Division with a record of 3-8.
This year is all but over for the Seahawks, but it could be just beginning for the Niners if San Francisco can figure out a way to win on the road Sunday.