Predict who starts at cornerback in the 49ers’ Nickel defense

Tramaine Brock will be one of the the cornerbacks in the 49ers’ Nickel defense; we know that.

Who will be the other two starting corners?

The main candidates are Chris Cook, Chris Culliver and the rookie with the broken foot, Jimmie Ward. If the foot recovers and Ward earns a starting spot, he would be the Nickelback, and Cook or Culliver would start outside opposite Brock. I’m guessing Culliver would win the starting job over Cook. They both have the same problem — can’t turn and locate the ball — but Culliver has more experience than Cook in Vic Fangio’s system.

If the rookie with the foot, Ward, does not earn the starting Nickelback job during training camp, then who do you think the Niners’ three starting corners would be and which positions would they play?

Would you be surprised if Brock moved inside and Culliver and Cook played outside in the Niners’ Nickel defense? I think it’s a possibility.

This article has 61 Comments

    1. Fangio couldn’t remember his name the last time we interviewed him. I don’t think that bodes well for Morris’ chances to start next season, but who knows?

      1. If I were a coach and had a player on the bubble who might end up on the practice squad via waivers I wouldn’t mention him at all during training camp. All it does is draw attention to them by teams looking to get players off the waiver wire.

        1. That’s a good point Will, it would be a very sly and preconceived answer, but a good way to keep such players under the radar of other coaching staffs, which are reputed (KC Chiefs) to be watching the Niner waiver wire in the fall.

        2. We didn’t over-mention Marcus Cooper too much last year, and the Chiefs still found him. Pretty hard to hide guys, but worth trying I suppose.

    2. From the various reports on the minicamp, it looked like Morris was getting the majority of work at SCB. The only other candidate in my mind would be Parrish Cox who didn’t look out of place when he had to step in during the playoffs last season.

      1. Cox and Morris split the Nickel reps. Fangio said Wright was supposed to get most of the Nickel reps but he retired.

        I think it’s unlikely Cox or Morris will be one of the three-best corners on the team next season.

    1. Only thing about that trio is Culliver only has played on the left side in the NFL, and Brock seemed grooved into the LCB spot in the base defense in mini-camp and OTAs.

      1. Generally speaking given the propensity of right handed QB’s doesn’t the RCB generally need to be the stronger of the two backs? My guess is that there is a higher percentage of passes that go to the right side of the field versus left. Who in your opinion is the better cb, Brock or Culliver? Is Culli good enough to play RCB?

        I assume that Brock and Culliver are our two best CB’s and if Culli has to play right then that’s just where he ends up.

          1. Sorry I almost always position things from the view of the offense. When I listed the 3 players originally I put them from the view of the QB.

      2. That’s how it was with Rogers & Culliver. It requires some faith in Cook on the other side. TBD on Morris and the rookies.
        I like to be a Half Full guy, but I’ll admit there’s a lot to be proven in the secondary this summer; skills, tackling, talented depth, cohesion.

    2. I wouldn’t put much stock into Cook. I understand that players fall through the cracks sometimes but I also believe that the majority of NFL coaches are not bozos. CB is a high value position in the league and when I see a team give up on a player that tells me that their group of coaches doesn’t think he’ll achieve his potential. Sure new surroundings or philosophies can “wake up” certain players and maybe we’ll get lucky but really, what are the chances that he’s a starting caliber CB that just needed a new zip code to turn on the magic?

      1. Cfc:

        I tend to agree with your viewpoint as a general matter, but I also think scheme matters, and I’m pretty sure Frazier’s defensive scheme asks for different things from its CBs than Fangio’s scheme asks. That will be particularly true if Cook was correct when he said he was brought in to play press coverage. I’m also a believer in Ed Donatell, so I’m interested to find out whether the change in scheme and coaching makes a difference.

        I’m not predicting greatness for Cook, or that he will be the starter, but I want to see what he does on the field in the 49ers’ system before I write him off.

        1. If the front 7 is strong, I’m not sure it matters who’s playing CB. In the 3 years this Coaching staff has been here, they’ve turned Brown into a legit starting CB, turned Carlos Rogers from an average CB into a pro bowler his first season in SF, turned Brock into a starting caliber CB when he was barely making the team two seasons before, had Culliver playing at a high level his rookie year even though he had played more Safety in College than CB.

          I’m really not sure if it’s the scheme or the quality up front, but the team has shown it doesn’t place a high regard on the CB position in the draft, and have done fine with FA’s, late round picks and UDFA’s. Seattle has done the same. These teams have some info others don’t.

          1. Rocket Brock was barely makin the team? He got hurt and lost his window. Now healthy he proved he is a legit cover guy. Now after a full year in the scheme, he will be much better. He will be a guy we won’t have to worry about.

          2. Good stuff rocket. I completely agree. I don’t think just anyone off the street could come in and start (exhibit A: Nnamdi), but I do believe this coaching staff and scouts know exactly what they want and need in a DB and are fully comfortable with what they have.

            I like our structure, but with the injuries to our starting front 7 I’m a bit anxious to see how they perform w/o Bowman and Aldon. It should be interesting.

          3. Right on rocket. That’s why I’ve been happy with the 49ers approach of taking later round CBs and guys off the scrap heap in FA.

            Big, athletic guys that can turn and run.

      2. I think Cook will start over Culliver. They’ve been wanting a press CB of his size playing one side for a couple of seasons. Which is also why they drafted Dontae Johnson. It should be a very interesting TC battle to watch though between Culliver and Cook.

        CfC, I understand your point about Cook playing poorly in Minnesota, but as I said prior to FA, I think he’s a guy that was miscast in that primarily zone style D, and should be more suited to the 49ers. Time will tell, but he’s got the size and athleticism the 49ers like at CB.

        Grant, any indication on whether Culliver will be right to go by the start of TC (assuming he isn’t suspended)? If Culliver isn’t right to go full speed early in TC, it will make Cook’s job of winning the spot easier.

        The other starters will be Brock and Ward in the slot.

        1. Culliver looks closer to full speed than Ward. Culliver has participated in position drills and Ward has not.

          1. Hopefully they are both right to go from day 1, in particular Ward who needs all the reps he can get.

            If Culliver is good to go full speed from early on in TC, then he’ll likely be running with the 1s rather than Cook to start with. It is his job to lose.

        2. Cook’s size is ideal in my book, most of you know I don’t like small NFL players. My opinion on his chances however shouldn’t be taken as a personal desire to see him fail because in fact that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

      3. Change in scenery and scheme helped guys like Dorsey, but I’m with you on the Cook question. It’s Culliver unless he’s still hampered by the knee.

        1. Dorsey is a good example of how a talented guy can be miscast in a system and not produce as expected as a result. Whether Cook will be any good with the 49ers is obviously a big question mark atm, but I think there is reason to be hopeful.

      4. I hear what you’re saying CFC, but this is a staff that went with Asomugha last year so I don’t think it’s a long shot to say Cook will start opposite Brock.

        Ward will get every opportunity to be the starting slot CB, but if his foot gives him trouble into training camp I give the nod to Morris.

        1. To be fair Jack I’m not sure you can call 3 games played with 1 start “going” with a guy.

          1. Sorry if you don’t like it but he won the starting job out of camp.

            He promptly lost it once the real bullets started flying, but that doesn’t change what happened.

            1. My approval has nothing to do with it. Your point is that they went with a guy that only started one game and that somehow that translates to the possibility that the 49ers will play Cook. If you see that as a connection then OK but it’s tenuous at best.

              1. He was the #3 CB the first 3 games of the season until he got injured. He lost the job only when he got injured, and Brock came in and played well. If he hadn’t gotten injured, he probably would have held onto the job, and Brock would probably still be a question mark heading into 2014.

        2. The foot injury is a bit of a setback to Ward’s ramp-up time schedule. Right now he should be conditioning for TC. In TC he should be learning. It may be mid-season before he begins to contribute.
          Morris is a guy I’m rooting for. He might be on a similar trajectory to Brock’s.

  1. I’m hoping CB ain’t a problem this year. And, just because so-and-so is “the best Corner on the team” doesn’t mean he’s any good. If a mediocre CB is “the best” on the team; the best is mediocre. Ah oh!

    1. Week 1: Brock vs. Dez Bryant
      Week 2: Brock vs. Brandon Marshall
      Week 3: Brock vs. Larry Fitzgerald
      Week 4: Brock vs. Jeremy Maclin or Jordan Matthews
      Week 5: Brock vs. Dwayne Bowe

      1. I’m still miffed Jordan Mathews went to Philly ..
        especially since my grandson is an Eagles fan ..
        (he teases me about it every time I see him)

        *sigh* ..
        I dunno where I went wrong with him

      2. Well grant it won’t be just Brock on those guys he will have Eric Reid or bethea there to help. Plus a ferrous front 7 even without Navarro and Aldon. Not only that but niners offense is going to be a nightmare for teams to defend. Especially your cowboys week 1! Lol

      3. Tough for Brock but he seems to play with a chip on his shoulder and also seems as tho he likes the challenge.

  2. Brock, Ward, Cook. I can see Culliver not starting due to off field issues and slow to come back from that injury. I could be completely wrong but im just guessing here.

    1. Let me just add that having the bethea and reid duo behind these cb’s could help alot. I Predict Reid has an incredible pro bowl year and that the niners will regain the top spot in defensive rankings.

  3. If you can’t turn and locate the ball you have no business being a corner in the NFL. Also why would anyone think that Culliver is a legitimate starting corner, from what I’ve seen of him he’s terrible

  4. I hope like heck Ward can play. Best case scenario… with Ward at slot and Bethea at safety, the run support and pass coverage improve at both positions. Though not big hitters like Whitner, they are both prolific tacklers that can still occasionally deliver the big hit.

    1. I sense that we’ll be cautious with Ward. He’s not only coming off an injured foot, he’s making a big jump in terms of level of competition. I think he’ll be eased in unless the guys ahead of him get injured or prove they can’t get it done.

  5. “To get in shape and run with the strength coaches and the trainers and do drills is one thing, but football is another,” Fangio said. “And he’s learning our system in meetings. But learning it in a meeting and executing it on the field are two different things. ”

    That was Fangio on Wright last year, which makes me very nervous about Ward’s chances day 1. So, Brock, Cully, Cox for week 1. The idea of Brock at Nickel makes sense from a relative size perspective, but I think you want your best CB on the outside.

    1. The league is full for the moment. I still have about 4 or 5 names that I need to verify, if they don’t respond to changing their name then their spots will become vacant. Otherwise good luck to those that joined.

  6. certain online oddsmakers say
    the Niners (#6) will bow out in the wildcard game
    losing to the Saints (#3)….What say thee, Grant?

  7. To start the season it will be Culliver and Cook with Brock at nickel. I think it will change somewhere in the season with Brock and Cook starting and Ward coming in for Nickel. Culliver will either get hurt or benched.

    This entire topic is very depressing. This group of CB’s is not very good in my opinion. Safety play may be good but the CB’s are going to prove to be a weak point. Let’s just hope the pass rush is dynamite to cover for these guys deficiencies.

    1. @Houston

      I disagree only in the fact that Personally, I’m enthused with what I see in our D-backfield. Although I was not (nor AM not) happy about losing both Brown and Whitner, the addition of Bethea and the emergence of the youth squad gives us depth at both CB and S that we didn’t have even in 80’s. People will be more forgiving with Culliver after the first tag he puts on a stray wideout.

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