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Niner Talk Bonus: Can Tramaine Brock Become Elite Cornerback?

Posted Jul 15, 2014

This week's bonus round of "Niner Talk" looks at the San Francisco 49ers secondary depth as the team is two weeks away from the start of training camp.

There's so many quality questions that come in for each "Niner Talk" episode, we must address the ones that didn't quite make the latest show.

Please keep sending me #NinerTallk tweets, you might see yourself on TV in the coming months.

Let's get to the questions on your mind as we head into training camp at the end of the month.

I've touched on Ward's progress in a previous show, but not to worry, I'll give you an overview once again.

San Francisco's first-round draft pick did not participate in the team's offseason program. That means no on-field work for Ward. However, the Northern Illinois product spent time in the classroom and worked out under the supervision of the team's strength and medical staffs. Jim Harbaugh said he expected Ward to be ready for camp and that he won't have any limitations from the foot injury he suffered as a senior in college.

When Ward's name was brought up to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the respected coach didn't mince his words. Fangio said Ward will have to earn his role in year one. The 49ers count on their nickel cornerback like a starter and Ward will face stiff competition in the form of Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris. Ward has the ability to be a contributor from the start, but let's see how he looks in the first few weeks of camp before we jump to any conclusions. Ward will get a chance to play catch up when San Francisco travels to Baltimore for a preseason game and four joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens.

This is the hardest question to answer. Oh wait, somebody asked me about who will be the team's backup running back.

OK, if this is the toughest one to dissect, I'll tell you why. Brandon Lloyd proved he can be a crafty wide receiver with his showing in OTAs and minicamp. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are solid as the team's top wideouts. After that, Lloyd has taken turns impressing with the likes of Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton and rookie Bruce Ellington. So who will take that third spot? The player who seizes his opportunity when the first-team offense practices against the first-team defense. The 49ers have always rotated their receivers when the first-team offense lines up in training camp. That means players like Lloyd, Johnson, Patton and Ellington will get plenty of chances to work against San Francisco's first defensive unit.

Whoever shines in those circumstances, and against the Ravens, will have a big upper hand in being the "X-Factor" for the passing attack.

As of now, I'd say safety James McCray. The Catawba College product created a few turnovers in the offseason program and appears to have a good head on his shoulders. McCray impressed Fangio with his early efforts. He'll need to pick that up when training camp starts to increase his chances of sticking on what's going to be a deep, veteran-laden 53-man roster.

There's always a chance for other undrafted rookies to earn a spot on the final roster. Nothing is set in stone this early into the process.  The 49ers have made a habit of finding undrafted contributors. Tramaine Brock, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Garrett Celek, Demarcus Dobbs and Morris are some of the key undrafted players to make the team's roster in recent years.

Brock produced starter-like numbers as the team's third cornerback season. Will he surpass his five interceptions this coming season? It's possible. Brock has done everything you want from a locker room leader. He was one of the first players to report for offseason work and he had perfected attendance in the offseason program.

He didn't make any interceptions from what I remember seeing, but he also wasn't targeted too often. Brock has the agility and chance-of-direction skills that all of the league's top cornerbacks possess. So can he translate those athletic gifts into more game-changing plays in 2014?

I think so.

My guess would be Patrick Willis. He's a big gamer in general and I know he's played in a few Madden tournaments. I should also mention that 49ers Studios producer Michael Blevins is not shy when it comes to picking up the sticks.

Yes. Sign up here.

I don't think you can be concerned just yet. What the defense lost in experience they will gain in athleticism. Brock can jump, break on passes and has great hands. Chris Culliver is coming off a major knee injury, but if he's the second corner like many expect, he has the confidence from competing against some of the league's top perimeter wideouts during his first two years in the league.

Elsewhere, Chris Cook had an impressive offseason with a new team. Rounding out the group, Morris and Cox have solid slot skills and you can't forget about the team's rookie class. Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker will have a say in this cornerback competition once it's all said and done.

So back to your question... concern? No. Let the new guys soak up the experience. Let them compete. We have four preseason games to evaluate the group and then we'll go from there.

Kendall Hunter is solid. It's going to be hard to dethrone him, just like it'll be hard for any of the young backs to take carries from Frank Gore. It is football and anything can happen, but the offensive staff has been loyal to Gore and Hunter as a one-two punch and they haven't done anything to show they can't handle the workload as the featured backs.

Can they? For sure. Will they? That's why they play the games.

Let's get through the preseason before we start making Week 1 predictions. But if you can't help it, feel free to share your Niners-Cowboys predictions in the comments section of this post.

A reporter, yes. To be honest though, I didn't know 49ers.com existed when I was going to games with my dad at Candlestick.

I'm glad I learned of the team's digital media and found a way to get my foot in the door in this capacity. I try to share my history with the team as much as possible in my current role. Hope you don't mind.

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