To say that the San Francisco 49ers (1-4) came into the season with an inexperienced group of cornerbacks would be the understatement of the century.
The group, lead by veteran CB Tramaine Brock, had a total of 12 career starts between them, and four of the five players had a year or less of experience in the NFL. Actually, it’s pretty amazing when you strip it all down.
Brock: 49 games, nine starts
CB Dontae Johnson: 16 games, three starts.
CB/S Jimmie Ward: eight games, no starts
CB Kenneth Acker: No game experience (missed all of 2014 with an injury)
CB Keith Reaser: No game experience (missed all of 2014 with an injury)
So it shouldn’t be a surprise, given the lack of actual time on the field, that this group is struggling so badly, right? Take Week 5 for example. With a banged up WR Odell Beckham, Jr. and a bunch of backups, New York Giants QB Eli Manning torched the 49ers’ secondary with 41 completions, 441 yards and three scores (including the game winner with 21 seconds left in regulation).
On the season, the Niners have given up 1,494 yards through the air (third worst), and allowed 8.0 yards per pass attempt (second worst).
It almost seems like GM Trent Baalke built this group with the idea that he could get away with “plug in-and-play” corners because he had a dominate front seven. The only problem is, the 49ers don’t have that type of group up front anymore. Not even close.
What would have made sense is to bring in a veteran during the off-season to play alongside Brock and ease the other youngsters in. I guess Baalke tried to do that by signing CB Shareece Wright to a one-year deal, but he was so bad that he couldn’t even crack the active roster. I’m not sure how Baalke didn’t see that coming…I mean Wright did grade out in the bottom 10 at the position in both 2013 (-11.1) and 2014 (-16.4) according to Pro Football Focus, so it’s not like his poor play should have caught the team off guard.
Even trusting Brock to be the number one guy was a stretch. Sure, he had a good run in 2013, but that was with a great defense around him. He’s been a mess since, and hasn’t looked anywhere near like the top corner San Francisco had hoped he would be.
As far as the rest of the group, it’s simply unfair to judge them at this point. Acker was a sixth round pick in 2014 who missed all of his rookie year, and has been thrust into a starting role. Ward is a converted safety who is still learning the nuances of playing the slot, while Johnson and Reaser are also still finding their way and are far from finished products.
While this group has potential, it simply isn’t realistic to expect much out of them at this point, and that’s not their fault. When you add in the fact that DC Eric Mangini‘s scheme is extremely complicated, it’s almost as if the organization essentially set them up for failure (at least intially.)
Hopefully, the group will be able to build off their early season struggles come together as a unit by the end of the year. If not, it’s another position group that may need a complete upheaval this offseason, which is something that’s becoming a theme in San Francisco.