The San Francisco 49ers have two games remaining before they have their Week 8 bye. That bye marks a fairly significant moment for this year's 49ers squad because after the bye we could see the return of numerous injured players. We already heard from Coach Harbaugh that Marcus Lattimore is expected back to practice at that point. More importantly for now though is the fact that Anthony Davis and Tramaine Brock could both be looking at return dates around then.
Davis confirmed he has an MCL sprain, and the timeline for return after the bye makes some sense. On the other hand, the situation surrounding Brock has been fairly radio silent. He has a toe injury that is believed to be turf toe. He has been out since injuring the toe in Week 1, and is not practicing at this point. However, he should be back sooner rather than later, which raises questions about how the secondary will shake out upon his return.
Bay Area Sports Guy has put together a couple articles on this question, and his belief is that Chris Culliver is the odd man out in this situation (Article 1, Article 2). Perrish Cox is playing better right now than at any point in his NFL career, by a long shot. He is tied for the league lead in interceptions, and per PFF, he is allowing a 28.6 QB rating when targeted, which is tops among cornerbacks. It would be foolish to remove him from the lineup given how well he is performing.
The question then comes down to Jimmie Ward vs. Chris Culliver. BASG's latter article goes into why Ward would stick around. Vic Fangio is clearly pleased with Ward's development. Fangio talked about how accountable he is, and the fact that he enjoys tackling. He said Ward is getting better every week, and is a diligent hard worker. Fangio is not one to dole out compliments on a whim, so this says more than if Jim Harbaugh was saying the same thing.
Chris Culliver is not having a bad season, but he is having an inconsistent one. He and Cox are both free agents after this year, so we have kind of moved on past draft stock keeping him in the lineup. It comes down to production. I don't expect Brock to be immediately inserted back in the lineup when he returns to practice, but he'll get worked in fairly quickly. Right now, Culliver to the bench seems to make the most sense. Cox can play inside or outside, Ward is developing fairly well, and Brock was considered the team's top cornerback coming into the season. It doesn't seem like Culliver has done quite enough to justify a starting nod over any of them.
The good news is he provides tremendous depth when the 49ers move to their dime defense. When Brock returns, they could conceivably go Brock and Culliver outside, and then Cox and Ward inside. Given how this group has performed, I would be down with that.