49ers review: Defensive backs

49ers review: Defensive backs
January 31, 2012, 4:58 pm
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PROGRAMMINGALERT: Tune into the debut of the 49ers Season Review show Wednesday on CSNBay Area at 6:30 p.m..

This is the first installment of a nine-part series that reviews every 49ers player and position group.The defensive backfield was expected to be a weak link of the 49ers. But this unit was sound throughout the season. The 49ers' defense surrendered 20 touchdown passes during the regular season while recording 23 interceptions. All but one of the 49ers' interceptions came from the secondary. The 49ers' pass defense was fifth-best in the NFL with an opponent passer rating of 73.6. After some injuries early in the season might have led to some big plays allowed, the 49ers started the same four defensive backs for the final 12 games of the season. Grade: A-Carlos Rogers -- A year ago, Rogers expected to be paid like one of the top cornerbacks in the league. But while Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, 60 million) and Johnathan Joseph (five years, 48.75 million) got the money they desired, Rogers did not get the kind of multi-year deal he sought. He settled for a one-year, 4.25 million contract with the 49ers and turned in the best season of his seven-year career. He has always been a good cover man, but he entered the year with a reputation for skillet hands. He had just seven interceptions in 82 career games. This season, his ability to catch the football was never questioned. He recorded six picks and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Rogers also had the difficult assignment on third downs of covering the slot receiver. He had difficulty in the final game keeping up with the New York Giants' Victor Cruz in the first two quarters, but he held him to two catches for 17 yards after halftime. Now, he'll be looking for the security of a long-term contract that he did not get a year ago.Tarell Brown -- Brown saw his draft stock plummet amid concerns he was a character risk. The 49ers selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and he has not emitted one negative vibe. And, this season, Brown made a major contribution on the field. He finally earned the starting job at the beginning of the season, and he held it all the way through. He recorded four interceptions and generally did a good job at right cornerback. At 27 years old, Brown figures to be a starter at least through the 2013 season, when his contract is set to expire.Dashon Goldson -- The 49ers and Goldson could not come together on a long-term deal in free agency last year. Fortunately for the 49ers, the New England Patriots didn't offer him what he wanted after a visit there, either. So Goldson returned to the 49ers on a one-year deal. He missed the first two games with a knee injury. But when he got healthy, Goldson made a lot of plays for the 49ers' big-play defense. He tied Rogers for team-high honors with six interceptions. He added another interception of Drew Brees in the playoffs. He gave up a few plays in coverage, but he more than made up for it and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.Donte Whitner -- He committed to the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, but changed his mind to sign a three-year, 11.25 million contract with the 49ers. He fit in perfectly with the 49ers, quickly becoming the quarterback of the secondary. Whitner and Goldson meshed well as a tandem, with Whitner being used more in the box for run support while Goldson played center field. Whitner single-handedly changed the tone of the playoff game against New Orleans with his legal helmet-to-helmet hit on running back Pierre Thomas on the opening drive that caused a fumble and knocked Thomas out of the game.Chris Culliver -- Considering he mostly played safety in college, Culliver made a pretty smooth transition to cornerback in the NFL. He eased into the action in the fourth game and took over the role as the 49ers' third cornerback for the final 12 games. Teams targeted him on third downs a fair amount of the time, but Culliver was never a liability. The 49ers believe with a full offseason program to get better and tighten up his technique, he would be ready for a starting role in 2012.Reggie Smith -- He got off to a good start in training camp, but he sustained a major setback when he underwent surgery to repair torn knee cartilage. He was not up to speed early in the season when he saw significant playing time in the first five games of the season. He had an interception late against Cincinnati that helped nail down that victory. For the remainder of the season, he saw little play time as the 49ers' sixth defensive back. An unrestricted-free-agent-to-be, Smith will look for a better opportunity elsewhere.Tramaine Brock -- The second-year pro began the season as the No. 3 cornerback but sustained a broken hand in the second game, underwent surgery and did not have much of a role on defense the rest of the season. He was pressed into service in the NFC Championship Game and gave Mario Manningham too much of the inside on a 17-yard TD pass that came on a third-and-15 play in the fourth quarter. He'll have a chance next season to earn a bigger role on defense.C.J. Spillman -- He might be the 49ers' best special-teams player. And as a restricted free agent, it's possible another team will want to sign him. But he also might have added value to the 49ers next season on defense as a reserve safety. Spillman did a very fine job as part of the 49ers' goal-line package. His best play on defense was his tackle of Baltimore's Ray Rice for a 4-yard loss on a second-and-goal from the 1-yard line on Thanksgiving to help keep alive the 49ers' streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown to open the season.Madieu Williams -- He started three games early after injuries sidelined Goldson and Whitner. But after the first four games, the eight-year veteran did not play a role in defense the rest of the season. He played some on special teams.Shawntae Spencer -- A presumptive starter when training camp opened, Spencer sustained two hamstring injuries in training camp that derailed his season. When he finally got on the field against Philadelphia in Week 4, he sustained a turf-toe injury. When he played, he did just fine. But he suited up for just nine games this season. He was a healthy scratch for both playoff games. With a scheduled salary of 3.2 million in 2012, Spencer will be released.Colin Jones -- He saw one snap from scrimmage all season, and that was on offense as a wide receiver. Drafted solely for his play on special teams, it took Jones a while to look comfortable. He seemed out of control on the coverage team early in the season. At the end of the year, however, he was a force on kickoff and punt coverage.Curtis Holcomb -- A seventh-round draft pick, Holcomb's season ended before it began. He sustained a ruptured left Achilles tendon during conditioning on July 28, and spent the entire season on injured reserve. He should be healthy and able to compete for a job this summer.

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