When the 49ers open training camp in late July, the race for playing time at cornerback will be wide open.
Second-year man Rashard Robinson looks like the leader of the pack at one spot, ahead of Keith Reaser, Prince Charles Iworah and Will Redmond. Dontae Johnson likely has the edge at the other corner position, ahead of Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams. Reaser could also challenge Johnson, or fill the nickel corner slot, as could Redmond. Or, rookie Witherspoon, a third-round pick from Colorado, could make a move this summer to earn one of the jobs.
Witherspoon, at 6-foot-3, has the length to shadow tall wide receivers, and he was a playmaker in college, where he was a second-team, all-Pac-12 selection in 2016.
But for now, at least, Robinson seems the only lock to earn a starting role.
Niners general manager John Lynch said this week that he and the coaching staff have come away impressed by Robinson, a fourth-round pick out of LSU in 2016. Robinson got into 14 games as a rookie and made a good impression, especially later in the season. He had an interception, eight passes defensed and was in on 28 tackles.
“When you watch him in OTAs he looks like a No. 1 corner and that certainly was a position of need and concern for us,” Lynch said in an interview on KNBR. “Rashard has made us feel a lot better about that position.”
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, too, has been vocal about Robinson’s skills and attitude. Saleh says he loves Robinson’s feistiness on the field, his competitive nature and his willingness to be physical.
“I like him,” Saleh told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s made of the right stuff. His attitude (and) his mindset is unique for a corner.”
Training camp is set to open July 27.