SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver was declared out for the season with a torn ACL last week, it looked like the team made the right move to strengthen its secondary in the offseason by signing free agent veteran Nnamdi Asomugha.
Although the 49ers returned five cornerbacks, including starters Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, that group did not do well down the stretch last year. So certainly Asomugha, a former two-time All Pro, could at least help, if not start.
But there are lingering questions whether Asomugha is able to play back to the all-star form he showed with the Oakland Raiders that he failed to replicate the last two years in Philadelphia.
And now that it is time for Asomugha to put up, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio echoes those concerns. And those echoes reverberated even more when coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed that the team has stayed in touch with former Tampa Bay cornerback Eric Wright, who failed a physical and, so far, has been unable to complete a deal that takes him back to his home town.
"We didn't really know what we were getting when we got Nnamdi," Fangio said. "He's had some good days out here and some days where you weren't sure if he was going to still have it. I think we're kind of in between with him right now."
The comment was out of character from Fangio, who has rarely made any negative public statements about any of his players, regardless of their performance. Which begs up the questions: Why now?
Fangio, nor any member of the 49ers staff, would make a statement like that without a clear intent. Is it to motivate Asomugha? Perhaps the team's other corners are still fighting for a spot?
Asomugha was listed as the primary backup to Brown at right corner back on the team's first official depth chart, while Culliver was in the same spot on the opposite side. That would seem to indicate Asomugha was in line for the bulk of the reps at the starting spot when the team is in the nickel and Carlos Rogers moves inside to cover the slot receiver.
Just don't bank on it.
"Hopefully he'll still have some gas left in his tank to go out there and play like he did prior to going to Philadelphia. So, I think the jury is still out there," Fangio said. "Nnamdi is at this stage too in his career where some guys start losing, their physical skills start to diminish. We just have to see if that's entering his picture too or not."
If Asomugha, who is set to make $1.8 million this season, is to be pushed, it will likely come from Tramaine Brock or Perrish Cox, both of whom were on the roster last year and held jobs on special teams. Brock has looked particularly good, but Cox doesn't appear ready to win the job over Asomugha.
The other obvious option would be to again pursue current free agent Wright, for whom the team originally traded before he failed the team physical. Harbaugh said the organization has been in touch with Wright, a San Francisco native.
"We're assessing; there's a process," Harbaugh said. "Won't really lay out the plan right now."
If Wright were to sign and pass a physical, he could instantly become a serious contender for playing time.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.