San Francisco 49ers vs. Chicago Bears: Chris Biderman’s 5 players to watch
The 49ers are shutting down safety Jaquiski Tartt for the final two games.
Tartt, 26, couldn’t shake shoulder injuries that plagued him throughout the season and was put on injured reserve Friday. He’ll finish the year having appeared in eight games. He played nine in 2017 before fracturing his forearm.
Tartt suffered a stinger in the opener against Minnesota and played through pain throughout the season. It was similar to the injury that plagued former linebacker Reuben Foster, who dealt with chronic shoulder injuries during his time with San Francisco.
“They were both stingers,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I don’t want to compare what’s worse or not, but it hasn’t gone away all year.”
Tartt’s absence means rookie Marcell Harris will remain in the starting lineup. He’s played well in his first three starts over the past three weeks. He was credited with 17 tackles, including three for loss, since he began starting at strong safety Dec. 2 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Harris was a sixth-round pick out of Florida. He missed his senior season in 2017 because he tore his Achilles’ before training camp. He also missed most of the 49ers’ training camp and preseason because of a hamstring injury that caused him to open his NFL career on injured reserve.
But he returned midseason and quickly earned the trust of 49ers coaches and teammates.
“This is insanity. The level he’s playing at, first off, is out of this world,” Richard Sherman said Friday. “Some of the plays he made last week and the week before, there’s only a handful of players in this league that could have made those plays. And he’s a rookie out there playing like that.”
Tartt signed a two-year contract extension last April, putting him under team control through 2020. But missing 15 games the past two seasons will likely force him to re-earn his starting job while proving his durability.
Shanahan indicated Friday he wants to foster as much competition as possible in the offseason.
“No one in here has a position guaranteed,” Shanahan said. “... It’s a good problem to have when you have a bunch of choices, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to have more than one choice (at positions). I think I mentioned that the other day with the competition. We had a lot of young guys play in the secondary last year who finished the year strong and I don’t think they had a ton of competition this offseason right away. But this year, we’re finishing this second year with some young guys who are playing strong also, some different young guys.”
In 2017, rookie seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert played well enough in the second half of the season to secure the starting job over 2014 first-round pick Jimmie Ward. Presumably, Harris will have a similar opportunity to take over at strong safety, while Tartt could also play free safety. Ward is a free agent after the season and ended four of his five seasons on injured reserve.
Slot cornerback K’Waun Williams returned to practice this week after a knee injury sidelined him for two games. His return could mean the 49ers move rookie fifth-round pick D.J. Reed back to free safety. Or, Reed could stay in the slot, where he’s played well in consecutive wins over the Broncos and Seahawks.
The Bears listed free safety Eddie Jackson as doubtful to play after spraining his ankle last week in a victory over the Packers. Jackson has six interceptions, tied for second in the NFL, and three defensive touchdowns. Former 49ers pass rusher Aaron Lynch was also listed as doubtful due to an elbow injury.