The San Francisco 49ers are 15 days from their first training camp practice which means we'll start to get a better handle on who will rise and who will fall in the competition for roster spots. To prepare for training camp, we're going to go through a bubble watch of the entire roster. The plan will be to go position-by-position, and then compile it into our first bubble watch of training camp.
We continue our run through the positional depth charts, with a look at the cornerbacks. Thus far, we've broken down the quarterbacks, the running backs, the fullbacks, the wide receivers, the offensive line, the defensive line, the outside linebackers, the inside linebackers, and the tight ends. We're back looking at the secondary today, starting with the cornerbacks. The veterans will report on July 23, and the rookies will report on July 16.
Arguably the biggest question mark on the 49ers roster heading into training camp is the cornerback position. There is talent in this group, but there are a lot of fresh faces. It's less about what they can't do, and more about what we don't know they can do. It would not surprise me if this group came together well, but it also wouldn't surprise me if there were significant hiccups along the way. It's an unpredictable unit.
Given the unpredictable nature of much of this group, the bubble watch is not an easy one. I don't know that all four of the strong bubble candidates make the roster, but you can put together convincing reasons for all of them. Of all those, I think Johnson and Morris might actually be the closest to lock. Morris was a special teams demon last year, and the team liked him enough in training camp to try and hide him to some extent during the preseason. I think he pushes hard for the dime back role. Johnson is a rookie, but given his ability to play both cornerback and safety, I just don't see the 49ers cutting him in August.
At the same time, that does not mean Cook and Cox are far behind them. Cook got first team reps in minicamp while Chris Culliver continued his rehab process. Cook is talented, but he has struggled with consistency. Maybe time with Ed Donatell could do the trick?
I was tempted to list Cox in the weak bubble, but given the inexperience of the other slot corner candidates (Ward, Morris), Cox will hang around the mix for now. If Ward comes to training camp ready to go, and can show some things in preseason action, I might be tempted to drop Cox to weak bubble. I'd imagine the 49ers are hoping Ward and Morris are able to secure the nickel and dime roles.
Chris Culliver is an interesting one. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and is coming off a torn ACL. I was actually tempted to list him in strong bubble. If he is slow to come back from injury, and if Chris Cook and/or Dontae Johnson look good in training camp, maybe the 49ers unload Culliver. I don't think it will come to that, but maybe I just don't have the stones to list him on the bubble. While Culliver has been a knucklehead at times, he is also a talented cornerback. While Tramaine Brock has the higher floor, I think Culliver has a higher ceiling. As long as his knee holds up, I think he'll show that this year.