SANTA CLARA — With cornerback Chris Culliver looking as though he’s made a full recovery from the ACL injury that derailed his 2013 season, it appears that the training camp competition at cornerback isn’t really a competition at all.
Veteran Tramaine Brock entered camp with a starting role all but secured, and it appears as if Culliver is now slated to line up opposite him when the 49ers play their season opener in Dallas.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said:
“Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver definitely are playing at a very high level right out of the chute. They’re off to a very strong start, both of those players. … There is, right now, a different level with those two.”
After a few rough practices in coverage at the beginning of camp, Brock has made strides towards regaining his form from 2013, when he started seven games while notching five interceptions and 15 passes defensed.
Brock’s emergence as one of the premiere defensive backs on the 49ers earned him a starting role in Vic Fangio’s defense, but Harbaugh feels as though the 2-year old has yet to hit his ceiling:
“He’s a show up, work hard, listen, do what he says he’s going to do type of football player. It may sound easy to do, but it’s what he does and he does it very well. And he has a lot of talent. With all the players, you will be known by your talent, by your execution and by your effort. Those are the fruits, and he certainly does those at the highest level.”
With the two starting spots practically secured, the real attention turns to both the nickel and No. 3 cornerback roles.
The 49ers failed to make any significant splashes in free-agency in regards to cornerbacks. The most significant was the addition of Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook, who has often underperformed.
San Francisco elected to use their No. 1 draft pick in the 2014 draft on safety Jimmie Ward, who they hope can man the nickel position.
Ward had a strong first showing in his first full NFL practice on Thursday after foot surgery sidelined him for OTAs. However, the rookie looked a bit overmatched when going against the likes of Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin during Sunday’s practice.
Veteran Perrish Cox continues to be a viable option, starting immediately at the nickel position after being brought back to the team in time for last year’s playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.
Cook, the 34th overall pick in the 2010 draft, has the most starts out of any cornerback on the roster with 29, but has failed to record an interception throughout his four-year career.
Cook will face competition from rookies Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker. Johnson has flashed signs of promise during training camp, but has also been burned often by veteran receivers.
While he didn’t offer much insight into where they may be placed in the depth chart, Harbaugh acknowledged the battle playing out for the No. 3 position in camp:
” I think with Chris Cook, Perrish Cox, Acker and Dontae Johnson, they’re all just working. They’re working to assert themselves.”
With no clear cut option emerging so far, Harbaugh will continue to appraise his new cornerbacks likely throughout the entire preseason.