Isaiah Oliver

No competition: Oliver stakes claim as 49ers' starting nickel

NBC Universal, Inc.

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers no longer have the luxury of lining up Jimmie Ward wherever he is most needed.

A year ago, it was nickel back. Ward took on that role after the 49ers did not re-sign K’Waun Williams in free agency.

Again, this offseason the 49ers need a new nickel back to cover the slot receiver. Ward signed with the Houston Texans in free agency.

But the opening did not last long. The 49ers essentially ended any competition at nickel back before there was ever a competition.

The 49ers signed Isaiah Oliver to take over that all-important role.

“We wanted to make sure that we got the best nickel in free agency, and that's what we went out and did,” 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said during the offseason.

“I'm excited about Oliver. He's long, he's physical, can tackle, can cover, he's going to be a good blitzer for us, everything that we do within this defense.”

Oliver (6-foot, 202 pounds) spent his first five NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He signed a two-year, $6.75 million contract with the 49ers at the start of free agency and has done nothing to force the 49ers to open the competition at nickel back.

“At that position, you have a lot of different things,” 49ers defensive passing game specialist and nickel backs coach Nick Sorensen said. “You have the elements of being a defensive back, the elements of being a linebacker, you have to be able to fit in the run game and sometimes deal with offensive linemen.

“You can blitz, you got man and zone drops. You have to have a lot of intelligence to do that, which he has. And he has the size, length and quickness to do all of the coverage aspects. That’s why we like him, and he’s done a really good job.”

A.J. Parker and Qwuantrezz Knight have worked with the backup units while second-year player Samuel Womack is starting to get worked into the mix a little more, too.

Rookie cornerbacks Darrell Luter and D'Shawn Jamison have the skill sets to play nickel. However, the position is so difficult it is usually reserved for players with more NFL experience.

Luter missed the first two weeks of training camp after sustaining a hyperextended knee and deep bone bruise.

“When they’re young, you want them to focus on one position,” Soresen said. “We liked him [Luter] when we had him, but when he gets back he’ll just focus on being the best outside and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast

Contact Us