The San Francisco 49ers kicked off rookie minicamp on Friday, and will begin their first set of OTAs next Tuesday. That means the eventual training camp depth chart will start to get a little more clarity. I should say, clarity for the team. Given that OTAs involve no tackling, it's as much about the players learning the playbook, and any adjustments to it for the veterans. This is the kind of stuff we can't really know about, and so we're left to sort of half guess at what exactly is going on.
And so, we've got a 12-part series looking at each positional unit. Thus far, we've completed our look at the offensive backfield, with quarterbacks and running backs and fullbacks, followed up by tight ends, wide receivers and the offensive line. We moved over to the defensive line on Friday, and outside linebacker and inside linebacker yesterday. We now move to the secondary, starting with the cornerbacks. We'll continue with the format of offseason changes, what the depth chart might look like, strengths and weaknesses, and wrapping with a look at what it all means.
The 49ers had an incredibly busy offseason with their secondary, and it was most notable at cornerback. The 49ers will head into the 2014 season with an entirely new set of starters compared to the start of the 2013 season. The 49ers released Carlos Rogers and let Tarell Brown walk in free agency. The team then signed Chris Cook to a 1-year deal, and re-signed Eric Wright and Perrish Cox to 1-year deals. They followed that up with first round pick Jimmie Ward, and three cornerback selections on day 3 of the 2014 NFL Draft: Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker. Check out our offseason tracker for the entire rundown of moves.
CB: Tramaine Brock, Chris Cook, Keith Reaser
CB: Chris Culliver, Darryl Morris, Kenneth Acker
Nickel/Dime Back: Eric Wright, Perrish Cox, Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson
The 49ers got younger and cheaper fairly quick this offseason. That leads to plenty of weaknesses, but if they can get their options figured out, they'll be in solid shape for the near future. Tramaine Brock was a very solid option once he moved into the starting lineup last year, and all of a sudden he'll be relied on as the savvy veteran. The 49ers have questions amongst their young and returning players, but they have a lot of options to see what fits best.
While the changes could work out fine, we obviously can't assume anything at this point. Chris Culliver hasn't played a snap since Super Bowl XLVII. Jimmie Ward has huge potential, but he needs to convert it to the NFL. Perrish Cox seemingly has peaked as a nickel or dime back. Eric Wright had an opportunity and seemingly lost it last year. Chris Cook has shown talent, but given that he got a league minimum deal, it's going to take some time before we figure out what he might bring to the table.
Simply put, young or old, there are question marks. I'm optimistic, but even with a guy like Cully, it's hard to know what to really expect when they all actually get on the field.
What it all means
The depth chart I posted above it my thoughts on how it will look heading into training camp. I think Jimmie Ward claims that nickel back job, but I don't know how quickly that will happen. I could see Wright and Cox getting the nod at nickel and dime back to start the preseason, but I really wouldn't be surprised if Ward and Johnson slipped into those roles at some point. Ward is the most likely candidate for slightly obvious reasons, but I think we see Johnson get some opportunities. And we can't forget Darryl Morris. The 49ers gave him a chance on special teams and he excelled. The question now is if Morris can take that next step and become a contributor in the secondary.
The secondary is young and features a lot of inexperienced players, but there's a lot of talent there. Like I said, I'm optimistic, but this group will be as important to watch in the preseason as any on this team.