Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver, who started the majority of the 2014 season for the 49ers at cornerback, combined for nine of the team's league-best 23 interceptions last season.
This year? Culliver and Cox are gone, and the team on Saturday signed free agents Shareece Wright and Chris Cook to ostensibly compete for one of the starting cornerback roles. Wright and Cook have started a combined 59 games (playoffs included) at cornerback over their careers and have appeared in a combined 87 contests. Their combined interception count: two, both of them by Wright.
Of course, it wasn't as if Cox was an interception machine before he became a starter last season. He had one career interception to his name between 2010-13. Carlos Rogers also had a reputation for poor ball skills and granite hands before arriving with San Francisco in 2011. He had only eight interceptions in six seasons (and 78 regular starts) with several memorable drops while in Washington. In his first year with the 49ers, he had six interceptions and made his first-ever Pro Bowl.
Cox, Rogers and every other 49ers cornerback who played from 2011-14 benefited from one of the best front-seven lineups in the league, from one of the top secondary coaches in the league in Ed Donatell and from a philosophy that typically kept a maximum number of defenders in coverage.
The question this year is how much that will change. Two of the team's long-time front-seven players, Patrick Willis and Ray McDonald, are gone. Another (and perhaps the most critical member of the front seven), Justin Smith, said he'd decide on whether to retire this week. The coaching philosophy also will be different. One aspect that will change: The defense will be more aggressive, which means that cornerbacks will be put in more one-on-one situations.
Other cornerback notes:
* One of the starting jobs will go to Tramaine Brock, who missed the majority of the 2014 season with toe and hamstring injuries. Brock is aggressive and has been an interception magnet in games in which he's played. Brock has nine career starts and seven career interceptions.
* Dontae Johnson, who had a good rookie season last year, also will be in the mix for a starting job. Johnson had one interception, which he returned for a touchdown, in 2014. He also likely will compete at nickel cornerback, which Cox mostly played when Jimmie Ward was hurt last season.
* Cook is entering his sixth season and is still looking for his first career interception. However, it should be noted that he had a very strong offseason and preseason last year that included two interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted nine times in the preseason and allowed one catch for six yards. Opponents' passer rating against him: 0.00.
* There will be a changeover in the secondary this year for sure, but there was even more last season. Starting cornerbacks Rogers and Tarell Brown left via free agency and starting safety Donte Whitner did, too. This year, the 49ers at least have stability at safety.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.