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49ers secondary is undergoing changes, for better or worse?

Eric Reid, the only Week 1 starter returning from last year
Eric Reid, the only Week 1 starter returning from last year
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

The entire 49ers starting secondary from 2011-2012 is officially no longer with the team. It was a unit that was a top-10 pass defense during the regular season and the nature of the NFL business prevented anyone from staying on the team longterm.

Gone is Carlos Rogers, who became a cap casualty after bursting onto the scene in the 2011 season. He was initially viewed as a first-round bust of the Washington Redskins until he came off a Pro-Bowl season. The 49ers rewarded him with a four-year contract, but he became a cap casualty this month with two years remaining on his deal.

Gone is Tarell Brown, who was an underrated cornerback who earned an opportunity at CB when then-starter Shawntae Spencer was injured. He made the most of it and became a solid CB for the team for the last three years. Brown signed a one-year $3.5 million contract (all guaranteed) with the Oakland Raiders last week.

Lastly, gone is Donte Whitner, who was viewed as a safety undersized and a former first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills. As one of the more experienced safeties, Whitner helped lead the secondary with his on-field leadership and big hits, which made an impact on the games. He signed a deal with his hometown Cleveland Browns last week.

In the 2011 season, the 49ers led the league in takeaways which helped them get to an elite 13-3 record.

In addressing the secondary in free agency, Trent Baalke signed experienced veteran in Antoine Bethea to a reasonable four-year contract. While the 49ers have talked to others, they have only signed Chris Cook to a one-year contract when it comes to cornerbacks.

Like Rogers, Cook was a high-second round pick of the Minnesota Vikings who has the frame to be a good CB in the NFL. While the chances of him being a starter appear to be slim, the 49ers have faith in their coaching staff to develop once promising defensive backs. It worked well with Rogers and Whitner being inserted immediately through free agency in 2011 and secondary coach Ed Donatell can do it again.

Vic Fangio's defenses have been ranked as one of the top units in the league for the last three years. While they have lost three out of four starters, don't be surprised if the 49ers can still remain a great defense moving forward.

It's expected the 49ers will draft both a cornerback and wide receiver in May, where there should be competition to play opposite side of the newly emerged Tramaine Brock. Early candidates who could play as a starter or nickel CB are S Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State) and CB Jason Verrett (TCU) that have the versatility on defense. Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) is another CB who is comfortable playing in the slot.

Chris Culliver could also be the nickel cornerback as he returns from a torn ACL. The NFL Draft is less than two months away and the 49ers will turn to their coaching staff to work with what they have in the upcoming 2014 season.

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