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49ers Starting Cornerbacks Aim for 'Next Level'

Posted Aug 27, 2014

Tramaine Brock said he was eager to get back on the field with Chris Culliver and the rest of the 49ers starting defense last week against the Chargers.

The San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker competition between Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland has garnered a lot of pub as the team heads into its final preseason game of 2014.

And deservedly so.

Figuring out who will join the starting defense next to Patrick Willis will have major ramifications on how the 49ers perform in the first half of the regular season. After all, All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman was placed on the team’s Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List, making him ineligible to play for the first six weeks of the regular season.

Lost in the defensive headlines is the state of San Francisco’s starting cornerbacks.

Enter Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver. Both young defensive backs have slid under the radar in recent weeks. The two players, however, lined up together for the first time this preseason in the 49ers 21-7 preseason win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

“I’m good with the defense and the plays,” Brock said after his preseason debut. “I just need to keep getting ready for the start of the year.”

Brock, who the 49ers signed to a four-year contract extension in the middle of last season, also said it’s time for the starting cornerbacks to raise their play.

“We had older guys above us and we learned from them," Brock said, "but we're just trying to take it to the next level.”

Brock and free safety Eric Reid are the only holdovers from last year’s starting secondary. Veterans Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown signed with the Oakland Raiders in free agency; strong safety Donte Whitner signed with the Cleveland Browns.

First-round NFL Draft pick Jimmie Ward figures to step in for Rogers as San Francisco’s slot cornerback role. Veteran safety Antoine Bethea was signed to step in for Whitner.

Brock, Culliver and Ward, the likely key trio in San Francisco’s cornerback group, are likely to see the field again this Thursday against the Houston Texans.

Brock said he likes the depth of this year’s secondary. In particular, Brock has enjoyed the instant impact from Ward at nickel cornerback.

“He’s learning the defense very well and bringing what he can to the game, his athletic ability and being able to play nickel and safety like he did in college,” Brock said. “He’s putting all that together and he’s looking pretty good for our defense.”

Ward has played in all three preseason games and recorded his first interception last week.

Brock and Culliver, on the other hand, played sparingly in the first quarter of the Chargers victory. Brock recorded one tackle; Culliver made two tackles and broke up a deep Philip Rivers throw in the first quarter.

Brock missed the first two preseason games with an ankle injury. Culliver, meanwhile, started both of San Francisco’s preseason losses. The games served as Culliver’s first on-field action since Super Bowl XLVII. The fourth-year cornerback missed last season due to an ACL tear in his left knee.

Brock said he was eager to get back on the field with Culliver and the rest of the starting defense.

“Oh yeah, especially when I missed the first two games,” Brock said. “It felt good to get back out there with everybody.”

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