And so the news starts to trickle in. Just a bit ago, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (subsequently appearing to be confirmed by Adam Schefter) tweeted out that he has been told that 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver tore his ACL this afternoon. Culliver suffered an apparent knee injury during a special teams drill, after a poor planting of his foot.
If this does in fact prove to be a torn ACL, that would likely end his season. Jerry Rice did come back from a torn ACL in the same season, but he was an athletic freak, and he actually re-injured the knee in his return. If the news is correct, the 49ers would most likely place Cully on the injured reserve list, get him rehabbing and back for next year's offseason workout program.
The big question mark for the 49ers now will be the depth chart and how to adjust for the loss of Culliver. Poor Super Bowl performance aside, Culliver was a big part of a 49ers defense that was quite strong for the first 3/4 of the 2012 season.
Cully will be tough to replace, but the 49ers did do some work to address cornerback depth this offseason. The team signed Nnamdi Asomugha, drafted Marcus Cooper and signed Darryl Morris as an undrafted free agent. While Cooper and Morris could be looking at the practice squad, this opens up an opportunity for them to show what they can do.
More importantly, Nnamdi has been performing well in practice. One drawback is that Nnamdi and Tarell Brown both play the right cornerback position. Brown has a bit more experience on the left side, so if Nnamdi proves worth starting at right cornerback, we could see the 49ers switch Brown over to the other side. This is speaking in terms of the team's nickel defense, when Carlos Rogers moves in over the slot.
Additionally, the 49ers could decide to make a run at free agent Eric Wright, among others. The 49ers traded for Wright at one point, but after a failed physical, he returned to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who subsequently released him. The 49ers may decide his health "improved enough" since the physical to bring him back.
If I had to make my early prediction, I think we simply see Nnamdi take over Culliver's roster spot (except playing right cornerback in the nickel). Otherwise, I think things remain somewhat similar to last season, with Rogers in the slot, and Perrish Cox as the dime back and primary backup to Rogers. It is possible Tramaine Brock could work his way into the mix, but based on the past, and what we're hearing now, I think he remains more of a special teams focus.
We'll hear more about the 49ers depth chart in practice reports over the next week, but that depth chart next Thursday will be interesting to see. In the meantime, best of luck to Cully in his recovery. It's a shame to hear this happen, but hopefully he comes back better than ever next season.