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SANTA CLARA -- A year ago, the 49ers determined Perrish Cox was expendable.
The 49ers cut ties with the do-everything defensive back in order to invest time and effort to see if they could coax production out of veteran cornerback Eric Wright.
Now, Cox is proving to be a valuable backup who can serve a number of different roles as the 49ers try to get every ounce of contributions possible out of the backups who fill the 46-man active roster on game days.
“Very important,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said when asked about Cox’s many roles. “Talk about the versatile football player. He does that – corner, nickel, punt returner, special teams. That’s very valuable.”
In addition to being the first cornerback off the sideline, he is also the backup to rookie nickel back Jimmie Ward. And with LaMichael James getting his wish granted to be released, Cox is also Bruce Ellington's backup on punt returns.
Cox entered the game at left cornerback on the second drive of the game when Tramaine Brock sustained a sprain to his big toe in Sunday’s season opener.
He played an important role in the 49ers’ 28-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. He played 61 of the 49ers’ 69 defensive snaps, recorded three tackles, intercepted a deep Tony Romo pass for Dez Bryant, and also saw action on nine special-teams plays.
“P-Cox has a lot of experience, so we expected that out of him,” 49ers safety Eric Reid said.
A year ago, Cox spent some brief time with the Seattle Seahawks after the 49ers cut him. When he was released, the 49ers re-signed him just before the start of the playoffs. When Wright was less-than impressive in the week leading up to the playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, Cox was inserted in the role of the nickel back in place of injured Carlos Rogers.
“When they did cut me my whole goal in OTAs and training camp was to come in and prove myself,” Cox said. “I know I can do it. Last year, I got lifted out of some games and I got lazy. I was kind of mad at the same time. And when they cut me and brought me back, I played.”
Wright abruptly retired in the offseason, and Cox established himself as the team’s top backup behind starters Brock and Chris Culliver.
Cox, 27, has re-established himself in the NFL after nearly seeing his career end after just one season. After starting nine games as a rookie with the Denver Broncos in 2010, he was released before the start of the next regular season while he faced trial on sexual assault charges in Colorado.
Cox was not able to find work in the 2011 season, and his career appeared to be over. But he was found not guilty in March 2012. Less than two weeks later, the 49ers signed Cox.
Upon his signing, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said, “As an organization, from ownership on down, we have done our due diligence and are confident that Perrish will be a positive contributor to the 49ers, as well as our community."
Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, who coached Cox as a rookie with the Broncos, supported the idea of bringing Cox to his new team. Cox saw action in all 16 games with the 49ers in 2012.
He experienced a tumultuous season a year ago. After the 49ers released him, the Seahawks signed him twice and released him twice before the 49ers grabbed him for the playoffs.
Cox finally appears to have played himself into job security with the 49ers.
“But my whole goal this year was to show them that I’m worth being on the field, I’m worth being on the team,” Cox said. “I’ve been getting love ever since. I’ve showed enough. I wasn’t expecting to play that much, but I was ready for it.”