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.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted defensive back Jimmie Ward with the intention of getting him work as the team's nickel back in 2014. The 49ers released Carlos Rogers, opening a hole at the nickel. The hope is for Chris Culliver to handle the full-time cornerback duties opposite Tramaine Brock, and then have Ward secure the nickel duties.
While Ward will get plenty of opportunities to do so in training camp, one person who figures to give him a fight for the role is Perrish Cox. The 49ers initially signed Cox to a 2-year deal in 2012. Cox operated as the 49ers dime back in 2012. He came back in a similar role in 2013, but then was released in November when Nick Moody was activated off the NFI list. Eric Wright had been signed that offseason, and it seemed like he was going to take over Cox's role.
In December, Carlos Rogers suffered a hamstring injury in Week 17. The 49ers re-signed Cox the day after the injury, and he ended up getting substantial playing time. Eric Wright seemed to have the edge for nickel work, but according to Wright, he suffered an injury before the Packers game, and then dealt with the flu for two days the following week. Cox took advantage of the opportunity and got some decent playing time both weeks. He reverted to just special teams duty in the NFC Championship Game as Carlos Rogers was back out on the field.
Why he might improve:
We kind of know what Cox brings to the table at this point. He is a solid reserve who brings a lot on special teams. From a pure playing time perspective, he's got a jump for nickel work for now. Jimmie Ward is getting over a foot injury, and while he is expected to be back in time for training camp, he will be a step behind Cox and company for now. I think Ward can surpass him in training camp, but until we see Ward get out their for full workouts, it's hard to know for sure.
One other area in which Cox can "improve" his playing time would be if he can handle punt return duties. Cox has a decent amount of punt return experience. If the 49ers think he can still contribute on defense, returning punts would boost his case considerably. Bruce Ellington is getting some opportunities, but his college experience focused on kick returns. Maybe the 49ers look for him to handle kicks, and Cox to handle punts.
Why he might regress:
As I said, we kind of know what Cox brings to the table as a cornerback. He's handling first team slot corner duties in OTAs, but that is in part because Ward is still trying to get his foot healthy. Cox might open camp as the slot corner, but the odds are pretty good that he could be surpassed on the depth chart at some point. Beyond just Ward, Darryl Morris is getting work as the No. 2 slot corner. If the 49ers like what they see from Morris this year, it's entirely possible Cox gets the axe. There would be some concern about the lack of veteran experience at the slot corner position, but if the 49ers are comfortable, the option is there.
Odds of making the roster:
I think this could very well be a toss-up right now. I've been thinking Cox and Wright are potentially competing for a single roster spot, at most. Some veteran cornerback experience would be helpful, but there is some young talent that could emerge past both of them. It will come down to what Jimmie Ward and Darryl Morris show in training camp. If the team is comfortable with the two of them, both Wright and Cox could find themselves getting released.