It’s no secret that, if healthy, San Francisco 49ers CB Tramaine Brock is locked into one the of the starting cornerback spots. It’s also shouldn’t come as a surprise that if DB Jimmie Ward sees regular playing time, it will be in the slot. While the roles appear clear for those two, the question of who will start opposite Brock is a little more cloudy.
With no clear cut option, performance in training camp and the preseason will go a long way in deciding who’s the right man for the job.
Here’s a look at the main candidates.
CB Shareece Wright
While Wright did start 27 games over the last two seasons with the San Diego Chargers, his play wasn’t always up to par. According to Pro Football Focus, Wright ranked in the bottom 10 amongst all cornerbacks with a -11.1 rating in 2013, and a -16.4 rating in 2014. He was flagged 13 times last season, and only has one interception in his four year career.
As it stands right now, Wright appears to be the early favorite to be a starter. GM Trent Baalke seems confident Wright can succeed in that role, and compared him to CB Carlos Rogers.
“Four years ago when we signed Carlos Rogers, a lot of the same stuff was said about Carlos Rogers,” said Baalke. “And that ended up playing out pretty well for us. (I) feel very good about Shareece as a player. There’s things, like all players and everybody in this business, you have to work on. But (I) feel very good about what he brings to the team.”
Whether or not Baalke’s words will hold merit remains to be seen. Wright is only signed for one season, so it’s not like the team has a multi-year commitment to him. If someone else outplays Wright in camp, I don’t think the team would hesitate to drop him on the depth chart.
CB Chris Cook
Many people scratched their heads when the Niners decided to bring Cook in last offseason, as his play with the Minnesota Vikings didn’t exactly inspire much confidence. He allowed nine touchdowns in 2013 (tied for most in the league) and opposing quarterbacks had a 140.3 rating throwing his way. In 34 games (29 starts), Cook never recorded an interception.
Despite the poor track record, Cook played well in the preseason, and also performed admirably in limited playing time with the 49ers. A torn hamstring cut his season short, but he apparently showed enough that the team brought him back on another one-year deal.
Barring injury, Cook is probably a long shot here, but he could end up being someone to consider if injuries hit.
CB Dontae Johnson
The 49ers probably didn’t envision Johnson lining up with the first team during his rookie campaign, but injuries forced their hand and he ended up starting in Weeks 15-17.
Johnson played well initially, but struggled over the final two games, giving up 13 catches for 188 yards and two scores. He was better in a limited role earlier in the season, but seemed to regress with more exposure.
How Johnson responds in year two will go a long way in deciding if he has what it takes to be a starter now (or down the line), or if he may be relegated to a back up role.
CB Keith Reaser
It’s interesting that the player we’ve seen the least of tends to be the most intriguing.
Reaser tore his ACL during his senior season at Florida Atlantic University, but he showed enough for the 49ers to take a flyer on him the firth round of the 2014 NFL draft. Reaser sat out all of last season as he recovered.
Early returns on Reaser have been positive, as he stood our during OTAs and minicamp, intercepting QB Colin Kaepernick on more than one occasion.
Reaser has blazing speed (4.3 40) and the 49ers have lined him up at right corner, left corner and in the slot. That versatility could give him a leg up on the competition, especially if the 49ers decide to always keep Brock on the opposition’s top receiver.