A Look Back at 2012
The 49ers were challenged with gauntlet of elite quarterbacks in 2012 and faced the tough luck of facing most of them on the road. But they managed to win games against Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan.
Overall, the passing defense finished the season ranked sixth in the NFL allowing 213.7 yards per game despite going against some of the best air attacks in the league. The trio of Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver and Carlos Rogers were the constants on the field due to the high usage of the nickel package. They all performed well throughout the year, especially in coverage. The trio was lucky enough to remain remarkably healthy and limited Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox to a low percentage of snaps on defense. They got the majority of their playing time on special teams.
In the playoffs, there was a dramatic increase to the number of passing yards as the team averaged 306 allowed per game, including 396 to the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. But the secondary wasn't entirely to blame, as injuries to Justin and Aldon Smith had significant impacts on the unit's pass rush.
Brown - in his sixth year - was the team's top corner often getting put on the opponent's best receiver and playing on the left side of the defense. He played very well in coverage for the majority of the season and was one of the team's more undervalued players.
Overall, quarterbacks had just a 75.2 QB rating when throwing to players he was covering, completing 58.9 percent of their passes. He had career-high 50 tackles with two interceptions in the regular season and one pick in the division round against Green Bay.
Rogers handled duties in the slot in most concepts, covering inside receivers and tight ends. The 31-year-old only had one interception after picking off six the previous year, but that didn't mean he was any less productive. His 1,255 snaps were more than any other corner on the team. Quarterbacks completed 70 percent of their passes and had a 92.9 rating when throwing in his direction because he spent so much time covering players in the slot.
Culliver made headlines for all the wrong reasons Super Bowl week and compounded his issues by struggling in the Super Bowl. Matched up with Anquan Boldin, Culliver got beat on some key plays and was the culprit on Jacoby Jones' 56-yard touchdown at the end of the second quarter.
However, Culliver had a very strong year overall in his second season, allowing a completion rate of 49.3 percent, which qualified as one of the best in the NFL. The South Carolina alum also made a crucial interception in the NFC title game in Atlanta. Culliver might be the most physically gifted corner on the 49ers' roster, but eyes will be on his maturity going forward. With Brown's contract up after the season and Rogers' cap number jumping to $6.25 million in 2014, Culliver could be a very important player this season and beyond.
Comings and Goings
Like much of the roster, San Francisco heads into this summer's training camp with all five of their corners returning. But Trent Baalke and his staff continued to create competition by adding veteran Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency and drafting Marcus Cooper late in the seventh round.
Corners in Camp
Nnamdi Asomugha (6'2", 210 lbs) 11th season, California
Tramaine Brock (5'10", 197 lbs) 4th season, Belhaven
Tarell Brown (5'10", 193 lbs) 7th season, Texas
Perrish Cox (6'0", 198 lbs) 3rd season, Oklahoma State
Chris Culliver (6'0", 199 lbs) 3rd season, South Carolina
Darryl Morris (5'10", 188 lbs) Rookie, Texas State
Carlos Rogers (6'0", 192 lbs) 9th season, Auburn
Lowell Rose (6'1", 192 lbs) Rookie, Tulsa
Locks to Make the Roster
Barring injuries, the returning top-three corners should remain the regulars to start 2013. There's a chance Culliver's role continues to expand and he could take some snaps away from Rogers – who turns 32 in early-July – in base situations that require only two corners. Rogers was also the primary blitzing corner in 2012, which is another area where Culliver's athleticism could come into play.
Brown will be an intriguing name to watch throughout the season as he enters his contract year. The 28-year-old hasn't shown any signs of slowing and should have a few years left in his physical prime at the demanding position. He figures to be a highly coveted free agent next spring if he isn't extended by the 49ers in the meantime.
Battling for a Spot
The battle among the remaining corners will be an intriguing story line as training camp progresses. Brock and Cox figure to have the inside track at roster spots considering their familiarity with the defense and ability to play special teams. Heading into his third year, Cox has very good athleticism and could also be in line for more snaps with a good showing this summer.
Asomugha is one of the roster's true wild cards. He's no lock to make the team and will have to play at a starter's level in camp and the preseason to earn a roster spot. Otherwise, he doesn't provide any value on special teams, which takes away from his value on the roster if he's not getting snaps with the starting defense.
The 31-year-old should be a good fit in Vic Fangio's schemes, but will need to prove he has the quickness and agility to hang with NFL receivers. He still has the instincts and could be a valuable mentor figure to the younger players in the locker room. But the Cal alum will have a hard time making the team if opposing offenses are able to single him out in space against shifty receivers. If there's an injury in camp to one of the team's other corners, there are far worse insurance policies to have than Asomugha.
Cooper enters his first training camp having not played much on defense in college and will have to make his mark on special teams. He's a very good athlete with good size, but is still very raw at the position making him a good project for secondary coach Ed Donatell.
At best, Cooper will be battling for a spot on the practice squad to keep improving and give himself a future with the team, at least in the short term.
The same can be said for Rose and Morris, who enter camp as heavy underdogs and will have to perform very well to earn practice squad consideration as undrafted free agents.