Shakeup in secondary as Plummer slated for surgery

The NFL's worst secondary is losing arguably its best cornerback. Sixth-year veteran Ahmed Plummer is preparing to undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip in his left ankle and expects to miss the next 2 to 6 weeks of action. That leaves the 49ers scrambling in a secondary allowing 374 yards passing per game, where coach Mike Nolan already has replaced erstwhile free safety Mike Rumph with nickel back Mike Adams. Now Rumph likely will find himself right back in the starting lineup.

Nolan said earlier Monday that he has decided to replace Rumph – who struggled in San Francisco first three games after making the move from cornerback to free safety this spring – with Adams, one of the team's fastest players who began training camp as a backup safety before climbing up the depth chart at cornerback.

Nolan said Rumph would switch back to the cornerback position at which he began his career with the 49ers four seasons ago and "compete at both (left and right corner) and work in the slot where Mike Adams has been." But that apparently was before Nolan learned later in the afternoon that Plummer is planning to have surgery rather than play with loose bone fragments in his ankle.

"There's other options, but the option I feel most comfortable with is taking it out," Plummer said late Monday afternoon. "I could go through a whole season shooting it up, doing all those types of things, but I don't feel comfortable with that. It's my ankle. That's what I do for a living – I use my ankle to run, to cut and do different things. And I don't want to do any more damage than I have done to it."

Plummer said he wasn't concerned with soreness in his ankle until last week, when "I couldn't run basically," he said. "It hurt to even walk. It was giving way and it was weak. That's when we got concerned and decided to take a longer look."

A MRI exam revealed the loose bone particles. Plummer played with the condition during Sunday's 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, when he was beaten by Keyshawn Johnson on a 14-yard pass for the winning touchdown in the final minutes. Plummer had five tackles and knocked down three passes in the game, which he said he felt he had to play because "everybody knows we don't have that many DBs as it is."

Now that the team can begin its week of preparation without him, Plummer is planning on surgery. That won't become official until he receives a second medical opinion later this week. If doctors "scope it easily and just take it out," Plummer said, he is likely to miss only two games, since the 49ers have their bye week after their Oct. 9 game against Indianapolis.

But, "if they go in the ankle and actually dig around," Plummer said, his recovery time could stretch into November. Plummer missed the final 10 games last season with a bulging disk in his neck.

"My view is let's take care of the problem. Let's get it out of the way," Plummer said. "It's still early in the season. I know it's going to be hard on my teammates and that's what hurts me the most about it, having to not be there for them, especially during these hard times. But if I don't do it now, then it just keeps getting worse and worse, and later on I do have to do it."

Now the Niners have to decide what they're going to do in a secondary that hasn't stopped anybody, a decisive factor in each of the team's two losses. Unless San Francisco brings in a veteran defensive back this week to compete for playing time, which at this point doesn't appear likely, the Niners are looking at replacing Plummer in the starting lineup with either Rumph or rookie Derrick Johnson.

Besides second-year player Shawntae Spencer – who took over as the starting right cornerback last year after Rumph suffered a season-ending broken arm in Week 4 – Rumph and Johnson currently are the only other cornerbacks on the roster now that Adams has been moved to safety, where the 49ers also currently have only three players on the roster. With Plummer out, the Niners have only six healthy defensive backs on their 53-man squad.

Though Rumph said he felt comfortable at safety, he has no problem switching back to the position he has played most of his football life.

"Coach Nolan told me he wanted to give me an opportunity at a position I could be more comfortable at," Rumph said. "With Ahmed being injured, it's a perfect time for me to come in there and play corner. It's something I've done. I've done safety – I've played both positions. I know the defense, so it's just a matter of me going out there and competing. I was very comfortable at safety. At this point in time, with our secondary going through what it's going through, we need somebody that can play corner."

The 49ers also need somebody that can play safety, considering the huge chunks of yardage that opposing receivers have ripped off after getting behind the San Francisco secondary. The Cowboys had four passing plays of 26 yards or more Sunday, including gains of 58 and 44 yards that set up Dallas' final two touchdowns in the come-from-behind win.

When he wasn't playing nickel back, Adams spent most of his time at safety during the preseason. He is in line to make his first NFL start there in Sunday's nationally-televised game against the Arizona Cardinals.

"Anything for the team," Adams said. "I'm just playing hard and taking it as it goes. I knew a change was going to come. I just didn't know how drastic it would be, or who was going to be moved. But I knew it had something to do with me, because I was the swing man safety-corner. It's not like I'm new to the (safety) position. I've played it before. With my speed, I can cover the middle of the field. It's not like it's something new, like they're throwing (me) to the wolves."

Since Adams brought up the analogy, that's what it has looked like at times for certain members of San Francisco's beleaguered secondary. It stands to reason that change – any change – can't hurt.

But will it help?

"I think it's a matter of some movement we did to help this defense win some games," Rumph said. "I don't think it's short term."


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