Is San Francisco 49ers CB Chris Culliver poised for a breakout year?

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49ers cornerback Chris Culliver has undoubtedly had his fair share of off-field exploits. Whether you love-to-hate him or hate-to-love him, Culliver will play a significant role in the 49ers’ secondary this year. With Carlos Rogers’ departure and Eric Wright’s retirement from football, the 49ers have Culliver, Tramaine Brock, Chris Cook, Perrish Cox and rookie Jimmie Ward vying for starting spots.

The 49ers secondary needs a leader to emerge. This role could be thrust upon Culliver by default. He was drafted in the third-round in 2011 and played all 16 regular season games in the first two years of his career. Culliver had 47 combined tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2012 and was making big strides in his play.

Yet his 2012 season was mired by his controversial remarks against homosexuals during Super Bowl XLVII media day. When asked about his feelings regarding the possibility of homosexual players in the locker room, Culliver replied, “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.” Culliver has since apologized for the comments and attempted to rehabilitate his image by undergoing sensitivity training and working with gay support groups.

Just when Culliver seemed to be headed in the right direction, he suffered a devastating ACL tear in training camp las year; he missed the entire 2013 season. To make matters worse, Culliver was suspected of hit-and-run in March 2014. Culliver’s case is still pending and he could face serious consequences for the incident.

Many people, including myself, thought Culliver would surely be cut from the team as a result of his off-field troubles. Now he’s one of the most important players in the 49ers’ defensive scheme. Culliver faces a tough task, however. He must once again rehabilitate his image in addition to recovering from his ACL injury.

He’s a breakout candidate because of his speed and physicality. Before his ACL tear, Culliver was emerging as a legitimate corner and matched up well against several big-name receivers. This was at a time when the 49ers had Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers. In 2014 both Brown and Rogers are gone leaving the 49ers scrambling at the cornerback position. The 49ers’ DB core is primarily comprised of fourth or fifth year backs. Culliver suddenly finds himself a virtual veteran in this young backfield.

Culliver must shake off his off-field shortcomings and step up to the plate. He is a big physical corner who can match up with the league’s best. We already know what we’re getting with Brock and Cook. Culliver is a bit more of a wildcard. He only has two years of experience before tearing his ACL and those years were when the 49ers had a stable DB core. In 2014 with a depleted secondary, he has the potential to be the 49ers number-one cornerback. If Culliver wants to repair his image and win back supporters, his on-field play is surely a good place to start.

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