49ers training camp preview: Cornerbacks

49ers training camp preview: Cornerbacks
July 24, 2014, 5:15 am
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Brock and Culliver are the definite front-runners to win starting jobs. Something fairly dramatic would have to occur to change that.
Matt Maiocco

Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco provides position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reported on Wednesday, with the first practice day scheduled for Thursday. In this installment, Matt focuses on the cornerbacks.

Who they have: Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Dontae Johnson, Darryl Morris, Chris Cook, Perrish Cox, Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser.

Who they lost: Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Eric Wright.

Looking back: The 49ers’ pass defense had another strong season. The unit ranked seventh in the NFL, allowing 221 yards passing per game. The team was fourth in opposing passer rating at 76.4.

Culliver was projected as a starter until he sustained a torn ACL in a non-contact drill in training camp. And when Tarell Brown sustained a ribs injury in mid-November, Brock stepped in and played well to finish out the season. He led the team with five interceptions.

Rogers bounced back with a solid season at left cornerback and as the nickelback. But it wasn’t strong enough to warrant the 49ers picking up his scheduled $6.6 million salary for the 2014 season. He was released.

Brown left as a free agent to sign a one-year deal with the Raiders after spending three seasons as a starter.

Overall outlook: The cornerbacks are the major question mark as the 49ers prepare to hit the practice field for training camp.

Brock and Culliver are the presumptive starters, but neither has opened an NFL season as a starting player. Brock proved to be a capable cover man in 10 starts, including all three playoff games, last season. Culliver has been cleared to return after spending the past year rehabbing his ACL.

Safety Jimmie Ward was selected with the No. 30 overall pick to compete for the role as the all-important nickelback. Ward enters the competition to cover the slot receiver against Morris and Cox.

Morris is an intriguing speedster who performed well on special teams. Cox held up in the nickelback role when he was pressed into action for two playoff games last season.

Camp competition: Brock and Culliver are the definite front-runners to win starting jobs. Something fairly dramatic would have to occur to change that. After the two starters, the competition should really heat up for the role of the third corner. Ward, Morris and Cox are the contenders. Cook and Johnson, a fourth-round selection from North Carolina State, have good size and speed. With a strong camps, they can insert themselves into the mix as key contributors.