When the 49ers defense took the field in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII against the Ravens, Dashon Goldson teamed with Donte Whitner at safety and Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown started at the corners.
As of now, the starting secondary for 2013 is still in flux – and may become even more cloudy in the coming weeks.
The news Tuesday that the Niners had signed former Raiders and Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a one-year deal means the three-time Pro Bowler, 31, will compete for playing time with Rogers, Brown and nickel back Chris Culliver. In addition, reports that the 49ers still are interested in free agent safety Charles Woodson means that Whitner, newcomer Craig Dahl (a former Ram signed as a free agent) and Woodson might be competing for two jobs.
Since head coach Jim Harbaugh took the job as 49ers coach in 2011, he has preached that he likes competition in training camp – and it appears he’ll have it all over the roster.
The Niners may have won the NFC championship and come close to winning a Super Bowl, but San Francisco’s players can’t afford to be complacent.
As Dahl said recently after signing a three-year deal with San Francisco, “I’m always open to competition. The team that’s progressing is always bringing in guys for competition.”
That certainly is the case with the Niners signing Asomugha.
Asomugha represents a much bigger (6-foot-2) corner who might be able to help the Niners in dealing with larger receivers and in playing red-zone coverages, when jamming receivers at the line can be crucial.
By signing Asomugha to a cheap, $1.35 million deal – with a chance to make $1.65 million more in incentives, the San Francisco Chronicle reported – Asomugha is a low-risk signing with potentially high rewards.
Because he was released by the Eagles, who were never happy with his play after signing him to a five-year, $60 million deal in 2011, Asomugha is joining the 49ers with “a chip on his shoulder,” a source told the Chronicle. The one-time star with the Raiders has something to prove.
The signing, however, will create ripples. Does this mean Rogers’ job is in jeopardy? His play in the Super Bowl was suspect and the Niners’ coverage against the Ravens in the Super Bowl and against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game wasn’t sound. Though Rogers went to the Pro Bowl two seasons ago, his play in 2012 wasn’t as good, and Brown generally was deemed the better cover corner. Culliver, too, made some costly mistakes in the Super Bowl.
Competition for playing time as a starter or nickel corner this spring and summer could be fierce among Asomugha, Rogers, Brown and Culliver – and perhaps at least one cornerback added in the draft, as well as holdovers Perrish Cox and Tramaine Brock.
Though much has changed in the 49ers defensive backfield since the Super Bowl loss, there appear to be more changes in store.
Whitner, however, believes the signing of Asomugha makes the 49ers stronger. In this case, change is good.
“It’s a pretty good pickup for us,” Whitner said on the NFL Network Tuesday night. “We have a young corner in Chris Culliver, veteran guys in Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers and a great defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio. If he comes in and really learns our defense, Vic will do everything that is possible to put all of those guys on the field to make plays at the same time.”