Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Much will be expected out of No. 1 corner Tramaine Brock this season.
Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke can talk up the 49ers cornerbacks as much as they want to, but it is hard to overlook the notion that this unit is perhaps the most questionable, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Jimmie Ward obviously gets a pass, as we have indicated on the previous slide. But what of the other changes?
Gone are veterans Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers—smart moves in terms of cap space and development, but both are certainly losses that affect the level of experience within the 49ers secondary.
Replacing Brown atop San Francisco's depth chart is fourth-year pro Tramaine Brock, whose excellent play gave the 49ers the option to part ways with Brown.
Brock has scored high points with Harbaugh, per Bill Williamson of ESPN.com:
The 49ers have every reason to be excited about Brock, who signed a four-year contract extension last November. He improved so much last season once he got on the field and continues to grow this summer. Harbaugh raves about Brock's work ethic. Brock has had a perfect attendance in the offseason workouts in all three of Harbaugh’s three seasons with the 49ers, the coach said. Harbaugh said Brock‘s preparation is "at the highest level.”
We certainly cannot count against the stellar development Brock has shown recently, but the 5'10" defensive back has started just seven games over his career.
Brock and Ward are probably the least of San Francisco's worries at cornerback.
Perhaps the biggest is Chris Culliver, who missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL suffered in training camp a year ago.
The 6'0'' Culliver hopes to shake off the forgettable performance he put together during San Francisco's Super Bowl run in 2012 and look more like the cornerback whom San Francisco hoped for when it drafted him in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Initial indications are positive from the 49ers coaching staff, as indicated by Eric Branch of SF Gate:
Fifty-one weeks after he tore his ACL in training camp, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver resembles, well, Chris Culliver circa 2012. At least that's the opinion of 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio after watching Culliver in the first practice of training camp Thursday.
Still, 49ers fans want to know which Culliver takes the field in 2013. Will he show promise, or will Culliver look like the young back that was getting burned badly in the postseason in 2012?
Similar questions could be asked about the remaining cast of 49ers cornerbacks.
Offseason acquisition Chris Cook has all the physical traits, and at 6'2" and 200 pounds, it is easy to see why the 49ers feel highly about him even if his career did not get off to a good start in Minnesota.
Cook may benefit from the press-based coverage scheme employed by Vic Fangio, but it is anything but guaranteed that the four-year veteran will be an impact player.
At best, Cook makes the team as the No. 3 or No. 4 corner depending on what happens with Ward.
That leaves three fringe players: Perrish Cox, Darryl Morris and rookie Dontae Johnson. Fellow rookie Kenneth Acker is all but destined for the practice squad in this author's opinion.
Morris is an intriguing candidate based on his speed and special teams abilities alone. He may win out against Cox based on that, but training camp will be the ultimate deciding factor. As was the case a year ago, Cox appears perpetually on the roster bubble.
Of course, Johnson is envisioned as a long-term project from the 49ers' perspective. A fourth-round pick, Johnson has some excellent physical attributes—6'2" and 195 pounds—but he is pretty raw according to David Fucillo of Niners Nation:
Aside from Brock and Ward, each one of San Francisco's remaining corners raises some pretty big questions. There have been signs of progression and promise, so we should not discount that.
But as Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area points out, this position is the one with the most question marks heading into training camp.
Maybe that's a good thing to have going forward—the desire to prove the doubters wrong. But we have yet to see enough from this unit to be of good inspiration.
Stock: Falling (albeit not much)