The San Francisco 49ers will have to defend their NFC championship without Chris Culliver, after the nickel and corner back reportedly tore his left ACL during training camp drills on Thursday.
Covering a punt in a non-contact drill, Culliver crumpled to the ground in pain and was carted off the field with his head in his hands, as reported by ESPN. He later had an MRI, which revealed the ACL tear, and ended the former South Carolina standout’s season.
The unsightly incident was a day removed from the fractured right hand of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, and piles on the 49ers injury woes that started in May when leading receiver Michael Crabtree’s tore his right Achilles tendon.
Culliver is best known for his disparaging comments made during the week leading up to the Super Bowl earlier this year, when he said he wouldn't want a gay player in an NFL locker room.
The 49ers ranked fourth overall in passing yards allowed per game, and a combined six defensive players were named to the first and second All-Pro teams last season. The secondary already took its first blow during free agency when Tampa Bay swiped safety Dashon Goldson, and the loss of Culliver doesn't make things any easier.
San Francisco already had a daunting season ahead, with four of its first five games against playoff teams from last year, including an NFC title game rematch with the Green Bay Packers. Not to mention the improved Seattle Seahawks under quarterback Russell Wilson, and St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher getting another year to mold his club into a winner once again.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has several options behind Culliver, and doesn’t necessarily have to peruse free agency to get his team back on track.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, Brock was moved up to first string left corner, while Carlos Rogers was moved to the slot. Harbaugh could be experimenting to see who works best, or he might have that much confidence in the 24-year-old who has 25 tackles in 30 games during his first three seasons.
Culliver was right behind Rogers on the depth chart, and the next one up at left corner is third-year player Cox. He’s entering his second year in San Francisco, and third overall after being drafted by Denver in 2010 in the fifth round.
Last season, he appeared in all 16 games, and had four total tackles in three postseason appearances. He could share time with Brock depending on how each responds to an expanded role.
Asomugha completely drowned in Philadelphia, which allowed San Francisco to sign him for a pittance this offseason. The Mercury News reported that the player once considered the best cornerback in the league has looked solid during practices and Harbaugh has taken notice.
"He did have some eye-popping plays, especially yesterday," Harbaugh said. "He has good grasp on the defense, he's in shape and doing a nice job."
The only rookie of the bunch, Morris ran a terrific 4.45 40 and was a three year starter at Texas State with 61 tackles, four interceptions, and five passes broken up. Standing at 5'9 and weighing 187 pounds, Morris could have some trouble with taller and stronger receivers, but he isn’t a long shot.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that rookies have broken through and starred under Harbaugh, and pointed out that right corner Tarell Brown is in the last year of his contract. A solid year from Morris could make Brown expendable.