Editor’s note: Insider Matt Maiocco will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp, which opens with their first full-squad practice on Aug. 1.
Who they have: Tramaine Brock, Shareece Wright, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Chris Cook, Kenneth Acker, Marcus Cromartie, Leon McFadden, Mylan Hicks
Who they lost: Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, Cameron Fuller
Looking back: Despite a rash of injuries, including starter Brock being limited to approximately 12 healthy snaps the entire season, the cornerbacks were outstanding. Cox and Culliver combined for nine of the 49ers’ NFL-best 23 interceptions. The 49ers ranked fifth in the league in passing yards allowed, and their opponent passer rating of 79.5 was fourth – ranking one spot ahead of the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson started three games as a rookie and was a pleasant surprise.
Overall outlook: Cox and Culliver are gone, but there is still plenty of talent at this position. Brock is the team’s presumptive No. 1 cornerback. The 49ers are high on Wright, whom they signed to a one-year contract after he started 27 games the past two seasons with the San Diego Chargers. They re-signed Cook, who started 22 games in 2012 and ’13 with Minnesota. His first season with the 49ers ended early due to a torn hamstring. Johnson showed a lot of promise as a rookie. Fellow 2014 draft picks Reaser and Acker did not play last season due to injuries, but the 49ers believe they can develop into good players, too. However, defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, who did an outstanding job with the corners, followed Vic Fangio to the Chicago Bears. Tim Lewis, who was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job in 2005, is the new DBs coach.
Camp competition: Where isn’t there competition? The assumption is that Brock will be one of the starters. Although Wright enters camp as the favorite on the other side, nothing will be given to him. The young players, along with Cook, will certainly have an open door to win the spot. Reaser is certainly a player to watch. The 49ers selected him in the fifth round of the ’14 draft despite knowing he would not play as a rookie due to a second ACL surgery leading up to the draft. Reaser, Johnson and Acker each looked good during the 49ers’ offseason program.
Bottom line: The 49ers lost a combined 28 starts with the free-agent losses of Culliver and Cox, but there is a reason the club did not fight to keep those players. Obviously, general manager Trent Baalke has faith in Wright, along with the players who remain on the roster. The 49ers did not draft a cornerback this year because they selected three corners – not to mention nickel back Jimmie Ward – in 2014. Baalke has shown a knack for identifying talent at cornerback in the past, and the team will again need to get production from this group to prevent the defense from taking a major step backward.