The San Francisco 49ers are welcoming back healthy players this weekend, which bodes well for added depth. The 49ers injury report includes four players this week: Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Jimmie Ward and Patrick Willis. Brock and Willis have been limited in practice, Ward was limited on Wednesday, but full on Thursday, and Chris Culliver has been full thus far.
Vic Fangio chatted with the media on Thursday, and he was asked several questions about the secondary in light of players getting healthy. For this weekend, he said Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver were "still up in the air a little bit", while Jimmie Ward "should be fine." Fangio said that Ward would resume his nickel back work.
Toward the end of Fangio's media session, he was asked about the secondary once everybody is healthy. The 49ers have received standout play from Perrish Cox, and Jimmie Ward has started to round into form. Fangio indicated that we would see more of a rotation, mixing and matching the cornerbacks. He was specifically asked, "Assuming all those, Brock and Culliver, can play, I don't know if you can share this, but who would be the starter and who would be the nickel in that situation with all hands on deck?" Here is his response:
"Well, we'll mix up the corner position and try and get them all action in there at the same time and in-and-out, be different combinations. When we play six DBs, they'd be in there, all of them. It looks like Ward will be able to go, so he would be the nickel. So, I think it would be different combinations at different times."
Once everybody is healthy, the 49ers cornerbacks will include:
When they go to six defensive backs, I am assuming he was leaving Johnson out of that group. A six DB formation would seemingly include Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, and then Brock, Cox, Culliver and Ward. When they are in the base and nickel defenses, there are more questions as to who would play where. Ward seems to be locked into his slot corner role in the nickel. After that, there are a lot of options now that we've seen so much from Cox. Do they start Cox and Brock, and rotate Culliver in on occasion?
Once everyone is healthy, my guess is Culliver is the one at least initially who loses some playing time. Perrish Cox is playing so well, and with Ward set as the nickel back, do they really take significant snaps away from Cox? I think we'll see plenty of all the cornerbacks, but it seems to make the most sense to keep Cox in as a starter. After all, he leads the NFL in pass break-ups, and is tied for third in interceptions. At the same time, I don't think Culliver is put on the bench in perpetuity. Rather, he provides rotational value to keep the group fairly well rested. The question for now is how exactly Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell will handle this situation.