Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
Over the last year and a half, the San Francisco 49ers have flipped their Super Bowl XLVII secondary. Free safety Dashon Goldson left as a free agent after the 2013 season, and strong safety Donte Whitner left after this past season. Cornerback Tarell Brown left as a free agent after this past season, and cornerback Carlos Rogers was released as well. The holdovers from that Super Bowl team are Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, Tramaine Brock, and C.J. Spillman.
Of those four, Culliver saw the most extensive playing time that year. Cox was the dime back and special teamer, Spillman was the third safety when the 49ers went with an extra safety, and a special teams ace, and Brock was almost exclusively a special teams player. Culliver was the third cornerback in nickel situations, moving into Carlos Rogers spot on the outside while Rogers went inside to the slot.
We haven't seen Culliver on the field since the start of last year's training camp. He suffered a torn ACL, and has been rehabbing it ever since. His last game experience was the Super Bowl, which was a bit of a forgettable game for him. And really, a sizable chunk of the second half of the 2012 season was a bit forgettable. Culliver had a very solid rookie campaign, and was off to strong start in 2012, but he suffered some sophomore inconsistencies.
Culliver's ACL recovery has been fairly quiet, which hopefully bodes well for his return to the field. He took part in individual work during the last minicamp, but did not take part in team drills. He seems on track to join the team drills at the start of training camp, but we won't know for certain until camp actually starts.
Of course, off the field, things were not quite as smooth. Culliver was arrested for misdemeanor hit-and-run, with a felony brass knuckles possession charge as well. He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for July 10. He is also facing a lawsuit as a result of the incident.
What to expect in 2014:
It is difficult to say for certain what to expect of Cully in 2014 because of the knee injury. The start of camp will mark a full year in his recovery. Vic Fangio has acknowledged Culliver's knee is a wildcard in fully evaluating where the secondary stands. If he is back close to 100 percent, he has the talent to be a very solid cornerback. He needs to clean up the inconsistencies, but he and Brock could pair up as a very solid duo. The question will be how confident Culliver is making the cuts with wide receivers. That will be a huge issue to track when we see him in the preseason. The physical recovery is important, but we cannot underestimate the importance of the mental recovery.
Odds of making the roster:
Barring an injury setback, Chris Culliver will be on the 49ers 53-man roster. The question will be what his role entails. He would seem to be the front-runner for the starting job opposite Tramaine Brock, but he will be pushed by free agent addition, Chris Cook. When Culliver left the field during team drills, Cook got the first team reps. He has been getting solid reviews, although without the ability to engage in press coverage in minicamp, it remains to be seen just where Cook stands. He does get the benefit of working with Ed Donatell, so we'll see how that work pans out in August.
This again is where Culliver's knee will come into the equation. If Culliver is a bit slow in his coverage and seems to still be affected by the injury, Cook could very well climb past him on the depth chart. The 49ers preseason depth chart is not the be-all, end-all of the pecking order, but it will be interesting to see who gets those first team snaps opposite Tramaine Brock when the 49ers open their preseason August 7 in Baltimore.