Perrish Cox enters Sunday’s game as one of the 49ers’ starting cornerbacks, the top backup at nickel cornerback and the No. 2 punt returner.
That’s a lot of responsibility for someone who was a three-time castoff in 2013.
Last year’s experience, then described by Cox as “the craziest roller coaster I have ever been on,” led to this year’s role as the team’s indispensable man.
The 49ers released him Nov. 12, and he was picked up by the Seahawks on Nov. 26. One day later, Seattle cut him, only to bring him back Dec. 11. Two weeks after that, he was on the street again, and the 49ers grabbed him when Carlos Rogers suffered a hamstring injury in the regular-season finale. Cox stuck with San Francisco through the playoffs.
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All the while, the third-year cornerback was making trips home to Waco, Texas, to be with his daughter, who was born one week after the 49ers cut him in November.
“I can say it now – I wasn’t even working out, really, because I was at home with my baby,” Cox said. “It was the end of the season, and I didn’t think anybody was going to pick me up.”
The yo-yoing between cities and the birth of his daughter convinced Cox he needed more stability. And to achieve that, he needed better focus.
Past seasons with the 49ers had shown a pattern. Cox would look sharp in the offseason when practice snaps were plentiful. But when the regular season began and most of the repetitions went to the starters, his concentration would drift.
“I was kind of under the impression (that) they already had everything locked in as far as cornerback and the nickel,” he said. “And those were great guys – I take nothing (away from them). But coach (Vic Fangio) was always getting on me about, ‘You always start off good at training camp and everything, but then as the season goes on, you kind of fade.’ Which was because of the lack of play.”
Cox was determined this season would be different.
Last year, he decided that since he would be playing near the line of scrimmage in the 49ers’ nickel and dime defenses, he needed to be bigger. So he bulked up to 207 pounds.
The weight didn’t suit him, however, and now he’s back down to 196 pounds. And unlike in previous seasons, he’s intent on staying there.
“I feel stronger; I feel faster,” Cox said. “I want to keep it that way.”
The 49ers also reshuffled their secondary in the offseason, which gave every cornerback on the squad an opportunity to reassert himself.
The team entered the preseason with Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver in the starting roles. Brock, however, suffered a sprained ankle in training camp, which gave Cox most of the first-string snaps in the preseason.
When Brock injured his toe in the first quarter last week, Cox entered the game and grabbed one of the 49ers’ three interceptions against the Cowboys. Brock is unlikely to play on Sunday, which will give Cox his first start at cornerback since the 2010 season, when he was with Denver.
Fangio said Cox found new focus because he didn’t want to “bounce around” the NFL anymore.
“He likes playing here. He likes being a part of this team,” Fangio said. “I think he’s just doing a little bit extra, not a lot. I don’t want to insinuate at all he lacked in effort in any way last year because he didn’t. But (he’s doing) just a little bit extra to be ready to go at the multiple positions that we count on him for.”
Cox also is one of several so-called “character risks” on whom the 49ers have gambled in the past. In 2010, he was charged with sexual assault. He was acquitted 11/2 years later after having sat out the 2011 season.
Cox said that episode was part of his growth.
“What I went through in the past has made me a stronger person, a stronger father to my baby, a better son to my parents, and as a whole, a better football player,” he said.