USA TODAY Sports
Chris Culliver missed all of the 2013 season with an ACL injury.
The defensive backfield is the one area of the team that is very uncertain. The 49ers have plenty of bodies available, but the question is can one or two of those players rise to the challenge and seize the opportunity.
No other position group on the San Francisco roster has so many question marks. Arguably the biggest question is who will start at the right cornerback position.
There appear to be three main candidates, Chris Culliver, Darryl Morris and Chris Cook.
Culliver is the favorite to win the starting job, but he is not a sure thing, at this point. Culliver last played in Super Bowl XLVII, following the 2012 season. He was torched by Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, as the Baltimore Ravens went on to a 34-31 victory.
Prior to that game, Culliver was skewered by the media for his homophobic remarks, and that may have played a role in his abysmal performance. Then, in 2013, Culliver tore his ACL prior to the season and missed the entire year.
Earlier this year, Culliver was involved in an alleged hit-and-run vehicle accident. In the incident, he is also alleged to have threatened another motorist, who was trying to detain him, with physical harm, while wielding brass knuckles. The outcome of this case is still pending.
It has been a very tumultuous 16 months for Culliver and getting back on the football field would likely be a sanctuary for him.
Culliver will need to prove that his knee is fully healed, and he has the same speed and explosiveness that he possessed prior to his injury. In addition, the durability of that knee will be an ongoing question mark.
In the 2012 season, Culliver showed signs of becoming a decent cornerback. His style can best be described as brash and high risk. He typically plays with an edge, much like Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks. The one difference is that Sherman is an elite cornerback, and Culliver is not.
Culliver's overly aggressive style would periodically get him into trouble, as he would tend to "bite" on short out or hitch moves, making him susceptible to getting beat deep.
Culliver also did a lot of trash-talking and sometimes crossed the line with his extracurricular antics. Not only does trash-talking look bad when you're getting beat, but his overly aggressive play sometimes resulted in penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct or personal fouls.
In addition to playing the nickel cornerback spot, Culliver also started six games in 2012. He had two interceptions and 40 tackles.
Culliver will get the first shot at holding down the right cornerback spot, and only time will tell if he can handle it, both from a physical, as well as an emotional and professional perspective.
If Culliver wavers, the door will burst open for Morris and Cook. Morris was on the San Francisco roster in 2013, but he rarely played, save for some special teams appearances. He is a good athlete but very raw and unproven.
General manager Trent Baalke signed former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook as a free agent. A former 2010 second-round draft pick, Cook struggled in his four seasons with the Vikings.
The 49ers are hoping that a change of scenery and Ed Donatell's coaching will enable Cook to fulfill his earlier promise. If so, Cook will become a viable candidate for the starting job.
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.