Ambry Thomas

Ambry Thomas ‘ready to go,' in mix for 49ers' third CB role

NBC Universal, Inc.

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers used a different combination at defensive back in Saturday’s 21-20 preseason win over the Denver Broncos.

With the nickel back position on the 49ers' defense still undecided, San Francisco shifted its defensive backs and utilized Ambry Thomas on the outside opposite Charvarius Ward for the first two defensive series on Saturday evening. The third-year corner remained at that position for the remainder of his time in the game.

Outside of allowing a deep near-touchdown pass from Broncos quarterback Jarrett Stidham to Jalen Virgil at the end of the first half, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was pleased with Thomas’ performance. Luckily for Thomas, teammate and rookie safety J’Ayir Brown prevented the Broncos receiver from getting into the end zone.

“He did a good job,” Shanahan said of Thomas via conference call Sunday. “The thing is, he just got that double move at the end, which to me is a little bit more situational awareness. It ended up not hurting us because I think it was Ji’Ayir who did a hell of a job rallying to it and stopping him on the 1-yard line right before the half ended.

“But besides that play, I thought he played pretty good.”

Thomas, whose second-year struggles kept him off the field much of the 2022 NFL season, has taken a new approach to the game. The Michigan product’s preparation has put him in competition for an expanded role in his third year -- and Shanahan has taken notice of a shift in Thomas that began during OTAs.

"I think he just kind of -- and I think I've said this before -- sometimes no matter what you tell guys, they end up getting in roles for whatever reason as rookies and starting going to the playoffs, things like that. Sometimes guys miss really how hard it is to play in this league," Shanahan said while discussing Thomas' sophomore campaign. "And I think that happened to Ambry, and I think he took a step back last year because of that. I think he learned that throughout the year. I think the main thing you realize is, 'How did they come back to the offseason in Year 3?' And usually you know if they got it.

"If someone doesn't play as much in Year 2 and they come back in the offseason in Year 3 and they're still not ready to go, it's like, 'All right, they didn't even learn their lesson. I’ve got to point this out to them,' and rarely does it work out that way. Ambry came back in phase one ready to go. I thought he was better in OTAs this year than he's been at time since he's been here. And that's carried over right into training camp. So, I'd say it started in phase one.” 

The 23-year-old corner was on the field Saturday for 33 defensive snaps, or 54 percent, and five on special teams. Thomas’ 2022 NFL Draft classmate, Deommodore Lenoir, was moved inside to play the nickel role when the team needed.

Shanahan explained that the team wants to put its best three defensive backs on the field, which means Lenoir’s role could shift this season. Veteran defensive back Isaiah Oliver seemed to be the front-runner for the role, but the competition has become much more heated since the start of camp.

“We just wanted to get a look at Demo inside,” Shanahan said. “We worked him that way in practice this week, and we wanted to give him some reps in the game. He did good. I think he only had about five reps of it, so it wasn’t too much.

“We’ll see. I’m sure he’ll get a little bit more this week. But like we’ve been saying, we’re just trying to find our best three, and we think we’ve got a number of options.”

The competition between the defensive backs will continue through the 49ers' three practices this week, and when the Los Angeles Chargers come to town for the final preseason contest Friday night at at Levi’s Stadium.

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast

Contact Us