The start of something: Brock's opportunity to take over

Brock: 'Hopefully I can be the starter for four years'

The start of something: Brock's opportunity to take over
November 25, 2013, 8:15 am
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Tramaine Brock opened the 2011 season as the 49ers' No. 3 cornerback -- he inherited the job when Shawntae Spencer sustained an injury during training camp. (AP)

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WASHINGTON -- Coincidence or not, the 49ers’ contract extension with Tramaine Brock – the one that virtually assures his spot in the lineup next season – occurred three days before his first career start as one of the team’s top two cornerbacks.

Brock gets the start Monday night against Washington in place of Tarell Brown, who is out indefinitely with a ribs injury.

And if Brock plays well, he is not likely to come out of the starting lineup when (or if) Brown is available to return to action.

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After all, injuries have often been used as the impetus to make lineup changes in Jim Harbaugh's tenure as 49ers coach. Harbaugh believes in the “hot hand,” so if a replacement does well, the original starter has a difficult time getting back his job.

And nobody knows that better than Brock, who opened the 2011 season as the team’s No. 3 cornerback after he inherited the job after Shawntae Spencer sustained an injury during training camp.

Here are some notable in-season lineup changes that became permanent after injuries to the incumbents:

Chris Culliver for Brock: With two interceptions in his first two games of 2011 as the No. 3 cornerback, Brock appeared to have a good handle on the job. But while he was recovering from hand surgery, Culliver got his chance. And once Culliver was in the lineup and playing well, the 49ers never removed him even after Brock was healthy enough to play.

Bruce Miller for Moran Norris: The 49ers went with the veteran fullback to open the 2011 season. But Norris exited the lineup due to a fractured fibula. Miller, a converted defensive lineman, stepped in and showed a great deal of promise. Norris returned for one start later in the season when Miller had to sit out due to a concussion, but the full-time switch had already been made.

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Colin Kaepernick for Alex Smith: In the midst of his career year, Smith was the third-ranked passer in the NFL with 104.0 rating in 2012. In his previous full game, he completed 18 of 19 pass attempts and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. There was no movement toward replacing Smith as the quarterback until a concussion forced him to the sideline. Then, Kaepernick played so well that Harbaugh made the call to stick with the “hot hand.”

Brock for Nnamdi Asomugha: The veteran did not play poorly in his three games as the No. 3 cornerback this season. But his minor knee injury gave Brock an opportunity to return to the role in which he opened the 2011 season. Brock made several key plays in a Week 4 victory over St. Louis, then he had two interceptions, including an 18-yard touchdown return, and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Houston. Asomugha was deactivated for several weeks and ultimately released. And Brock parlayed his success into four-year, $16 million contract with $7 million guaranteed to assure himself of spot with the 49ers well into the future.

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Injuries also contributed greatly to the decreased play and ultimate release of wide receiver Braylon Edwards late in the 2011 season.

The only time during Harbaugh’s time as head coach that a player received an in-season demotion due solely to poor play was in 2011, when right guard Chilo Rachal was benched at halftime of a Week 3 game against Cincinnati. Adam Snyder took over for the remainder of the season.

In line image of Tramaine Brock provided by The Associated Press

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