Jim Harbaugh has brought many things to the 49ers since becoming head coach before the 2011 season, including a bag full of slogans.
One he likes to repeat is, “As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another,” in regard to the spirit of competition on his roster.
In every training camp, Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke have brought in new or veteran talent to challenge incumbents or compete for a roster opening. This offseason, after No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree went down with an Achilles’ tear that likely will keep him out for the entire 2013 season, Harbaugh said he is confident an open competition among the young wideouts in camp this summer will produce something good.
“We’ll put (A.J.) Jenkins, (Quinton) Patton, (Ricardo) Lockette at the same position and let them compete and emerge,” he said. “The good news is that somebody will emerge because they have to.”
Now, the 49ers go into training camp (the first full practice is set for Thursday) with a similar competition now ready to begin at cornerback.
The Niners’ trade for Tampa Bay veteran corner Eric Wright Friday should create a true iron-sharpening scenario. Wright joins a team that brings back 2012 starters Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, last year’s No. 3 corner Chris Culliver, veteran free agent signee Nnamdi Asomugha and Tramaine Brock, Perrish Cox, Marcus Cooper and Darryl Morris.
Suddenly, the competition at cornerback figures to be one of the most interesting of this training camp.
In his NFC West blog for ESPN.com, Mike Sando noted that the veteran Wright – originally a second-round pick of the Browns out of UNLV in 2007 – “has much to prove before he’ll displace anyone.”
Wright, 27, played four seasons in Cleveland (with nine interceptions) before spending a season in Detroit and one in Tampa Bay, last year, where he had just one pick. He’s also had off-the-field issues and has been suspended by the NFL for performance-enhancing drug use.
NFL scout Matt Williamson told Sando, however, that the 49ers’ trade for Wright is a low-risk, high-reward move.
“He played poorly for the Bucs and has always been known as a high-risk character guy, but he played well with the Browns in the past and is more of a man corner, which is good for the 49ers,” Williamson said. “This move makes sense for both teams because the Niners are not married to him as a starter. It’s a win-now move – rent a guy for a year and create a lot of competition at a position the way Pete Carroll has done in Seattle.”
Wright also is a relatively cheap addition, due about $1.5 million in base pay in 2013. Some have speculated that if he plays well, he could be a much-cheaper alternative to starter Rogers, who is due $5.5 million in base salary this season.
But if iron (Wright and Asomugha) sharpens iron (Rogers and Culliver, in particular), the Niners could break camp with a much better group of cornerbacks for the season-opener against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.