Through four seasons in the NFL, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock has had his fair share of ups and downs. In 2010, Brock was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Belhaven University. For those who are unfamiliar with Belhaven, it is a small Christian liberal arts university that is located in Jackson, Miss.
As a rookie, the 197-pound corner played 33 measly snaps and recorded three tackles. Yet head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio liked the progress he made during the offseason from year one to year two. Which meant his roster spot was safe, despite the regime change.
Brock’s second season saw an increase in both playing time and production. On 120 defensive snaps, he only surrendered six completions on 12 targets. Moreover, opposing quarterbacks registered a quarterback rating of 78.1 when throwing into his coverage area, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Even though his opportunities were limited, it was apparent that he was making headway on a weekly basis. However, the emergence of Chris Culliver stunted Brock’s growth in 2012. At one point last season, he was the No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart behind Culliver and Perrish Cox.
As the 49ers headed into 2013, pundits from around the league felt Brock may be the odd man out when San Francisco trimmed its roster to 53 players prior to the season. Fortunately, he ended up sticking thanks in large part to injuries—and the Niners' decision to keep six corners on the active roster instead of five.
Yet, once again, he found himself buried on the depth chart. He started the year as No. 4 corner behind veteran Nnamdi Asomugha. Nonetheless, Brock never stopped competing on the practice field. He knew that his time to shine would come, eventually.
When Asomugha was sidelined with a knee injury against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, Brock’s long-awaited chance to contribute was here. Lo and behold, the fourth-year corner not only excelled on Thursday Night Football, he made a statement by recording the third-best coverage grade on the team, per PFF.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford tried to attack Brock on seven different occasions, but the underrated defensive back answered the call every time. In the process of notching two passes defended, he garnered three tackles, one defensive stop and one big play that led to a Donte Whitner interception.
Following the game, Fangio had heaps of praise for Brock. Here’s what he told the media, via Bill Williamson of ESPN.com:
He did a nice job. He probably had the biggest play of the game in breaking up that pass that Donte (Whitner) intercepted in the end zone. That was a third-and-1, deep into the second quarter. They were in field goal range and I think the score was only 7-3 at the time. So, that was a very critical play at that time and he made that. And he made some other good plays.
Brock’s top-notch performance netted him another start versus the Houston Texans in Week 5. Again, he outperformed expectations by intercepting quarterback Matt Schaub twice. The first interception was a pick-six on Houston’s opening drive, and the second came midway through the second quarter.
Undoubtedly, Brock’s impressive outing ended up being the best game of his career. When it was all said and done, his stat line read: Two interceptions, two passes defended, two tackles and one interception.
Looking back and reflecting on his achievements the last two weeks has left fans and media members alike pondering one very important question: Is Brock the team’s new No. 3 cornerback for now and the foreseeable future?
Based on his play, the 49ers would be considered foolish if they gave Asomugha his job back when he’s healthy. Aside from Brock’s outstanding play, his ceiling is higher than Asomugha’s, and he’s seven years younger.
Youth is a valued commodity in the NFL. Furthermore, Brock is in the final year of his contract, which means the final 11 games will be a free audition for both parties. If he continues to show promise week in and week out, San Francisco could potentially lock up him long term.
Sometimes, one chance is the only chance a player needs in order to prosper. Brock has waited long enough—the 49ers need to do everything in their power to make sure he stays on the field for them in 2013 and beyond.
Let’s face it, Carlos Rogers isn’t getting any younger, and neither is Asomugha. The youth movement in the Niners secondary needs to start right now.