Isaiah Oliver

Kyle Shanahan explains why Isaiah Oliver played in 49ers-Raiders game

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New 49ers cornerback Isaiah Oliver appeared to have staked his claim as the team's starting nickel in camp, but coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to see more from him in Sunday's preseason opener against the Las Vegas Raiders.

As many starters sat out of San Francisco's 34-7 loss, Shanahan told reporters Monday that Oliver was on the field for 18 defensive snaps in the first half because his role isn't "guaranteed."

"He has been doing that spot a lot, but there's a lot of competition there," Shanahan said. "We sat out our outside corners, but we didn't want to sit out any nickels and needed some guys to play because there's a lot of things we're still deciding.”

The 49ers signed Oliver to a two-year, $6.75 million contract in NFL free agency this offseason, in search of a new nickel back to cover the slot receiver after Jimmie Ward joined the Houston Texans.

“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.”

In Sunday's preseason loss, Oliver was targeted four times, surrendering four receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown while earning PFF's lowest coverage grade of the game (29.4) and an overall grade of 30.1 (h/t 49ers Webzone).

“[He played] kind of like everybody. Some good, some bad," Shanahan said of Oliver's performance against Las Vegas. "There were a couple things where he stood out that weren't always his fault, and I think he needs a little bit more help on the goal line. The touchdown they gave up, our corner playing with vision and understanding he's got to come off on that for our quarters-type coverage there.

"But it was a good first game for him and hopefully he'll keep getting better for us.” 

Other options for the 49ers at nickel include A.J. Parker and Qwuantrezz Knight, along with second-year player Samuel Womack, who made a splash in the slot during last year's preseason. Rookie cornerbacks Darrell Luter and D'Shawn Jamison also have the skill needed to play nickel, but Oliver's five years of NFL experience with the Atlanta Falcons certainly give him a leg up in any competition.

It's clear Shanahan and the 49ers are weighing their choices at the position, making the remaining two preseason games all the more important for everyone involved.

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