I never thought I would be saying this.
The 49ers need to keep cornerback Ambry Thomas as the starter. It was a surprise to see Thomas out there when the 49ers went to their nickel defense. Usually it has been Isaiah Oliver who starts in the slot, while Deommodore Lenoir remains outside.
However, Oliver was abysmal during the 49ers’ three game losing streak. Even before that, he wasn’t really cementing himself as an anchor. The only reason he was starting in the slot was because Thomas was viewed as the greater liability. But the change the 49ers made against the Jaguars was to keep Oliver off the field. Lenoir would kick inside, while Thomas held it down on the outside. And boy, did he have himself a mightily impressive game.
It might have been the best game of Thomas’ career along with potentially the greatest play he’s made in his career when he recovered a fumble that he forced and took it back for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Kyle Shanahan and a few players got way too excited and went onto the field, so the touchdown was wiped. It would’ve been an incredible moment for Thomas, but it does not take away the great game he had.
“I thought Ambry had some real good plays too,” said Kyle Shanahan. “Especially the turnover causing that fumble. He would’ve had a touchdown if it wasn’t for a couple people, not including myself, coming on the field. But I was real happy with those guys and hopefully they’ll continue to get better.”
He wasn’t a liability at all against the Jaguars. Everything was consistent throughout with him from playing coverage to coming up in run support. This switch that the 49ers made definitely played into part of why the defense looked elite again. Oliver was a weakness that offenses couldn’t wait to exploit. Thomas has always been that in the past too, but his performance in Jacksonville was better than any that Oliver has had this season.
At this point, the 49ers should run it with Thomas starting on the outside in their nickel package and hope that defensive coordinator Steve Wilks can coach him up if he gets in a funk again.