Nickel back role will diminish this week

Three and Out: Rogers' status, Kap 'won't forget,' 49ers focused

Nickel back role will diminish this week
January 9, 2014, 6:45 am
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Clearly, the 49ers coaching staff had more trust in Perrish Cox to handle the responsibilities of the nickel back vs. the Packers. (AP)

Programming note: Watch Thursday’s 49ers press conference with Vic Fangio, Greg Roman, Glenn Dorsey and NaVorro Bowman live on CSN Bay Area and streaming live right here

SANTA CLARA -- Cornerback Carlos Rogers did not participate in 49ers practice Wednesday, casting doubt on his availability for Sunday’s playoff game due to a strained hamstring.

If Rogers is unable to play in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs against the Carolina Panthers, expect the 49ers to replace him the same way they did against Green Bay.

After all, the approach worked against Aaron Rodgers and the explosive Packers passing game.

[RELATED: 49ers injury report: Rogers sits out another practice

Rogers had never missed a start at left cornerback since signing with the 49ers in 2011. Tramaine Brock moved to the left side to replace him. Tarell Brown was re-inserted at right cornerback, where he started every game since 2011 before internal damage from a ribs injury led to Brock’s promotion into the starting lineup.

Perrish Cox, the 49ers’ backup nickel back before the club released him on Nov. 12, became available on Dec. 27 when the Seattle Seahawks waived him. The 49ers signed him three days later. He leapfrogged veteran cornerback Eric Wright for the nickel back role.

Brock, Brown and Cox each played 62 snaps against the Packers, and Rodgers was held to 177 passing yards. He was also sacked five times for minus-20 yards.

Brock and Brown could remain in the starting lineup Sunday even if Rogers is cleared to play. Rogers could enter the game as the nickel back to cover the slot receiver on passing downs.

When the 49ers played the Panthers on Nov 10 at Candlestick Park, Brock was the 49ers’ third cornerback. Because the Panthers do not use as many three-receiver sets, the 49ers employed three cornerbacks only 35 percent of the plays.

Ironically, Cox got the nod over Wright for major playing time against Green Bay. Nearly two months ago, the 49ers dumped Cox to make room for Wright, who was activated off the non-football illness list.

General manager Trent Baalke had his eye on Wright for a while. And when he became available when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up on him for reasons on the field and off, Baalke was willing to make the move to provide the 49ers' secondary with a talented insurance policy for late in the season.

The 49ers exercised patience with Wright. He remained away from the club for three weeks in training camp after signing while “tending to a personal matter,” Baalke said. But the coaching staff had no time for patience last week as the 49ers prepared to play at Lambeau Field.

[RELATED: Key pieces in place for rematch with Panthers]

Wright left practice last Thursday with a hamstring injury. After being evaluated, it was not deemed to be a concern. Wright did not have a good week of practice, a source told CSNBayArea.com. And, clearly, the coaching staff had more trust in Cox to handle the responsibilities of the nickel back both mentally and physically.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said Rogers was held out of the game because his hamstring injury. Wright was available to play, and he saw action on five special-teams plays.

“He was cleared and ready to play and did some,” Harbaugh said of Wright.

Wright was not even listed on the 49ers' injury report Wednesday as they began preparations to face Carolina.

UPDATE (Thursday, 12:53 p.m.): When asked why Cox played and Wright did not, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said, "Perrish had a better week of preparation."