The knee injury to cornerback Walt Harris that was described yesterday as "nothing major" has the potential to be quite major. It turns out that Harris, 34, injured his ACL in yesterday's practice when he became tangled with receiver Dominique Zeigler along the sideline. Harris stayed down for several minutes after the play and had to be helped by a trainer to a nearby cart. Harris will have surgery on the knee either next week or the week after. The 49ers have not given a prognosis, but we all know that when the ACL is involved there's a very good likelihood that it will be a season-ending injury.
If that's the case, third-year cornerback Tarell Brown likely would step into Harris' role opposite Nate Clements. Brown mostly played in the slot as the team's nickel cornerback a year ago. Brown certainly doesn't lack confidence. Today he held court with reporters and insisted that his combination of strength and quickness made him the most athletic player on the team.
"My quickness, my speed in and out of breaks," Brown said when asked about his athleticism. "Agility. Just the way I move. Changing direction. I can hit top-end speed pretty quick. I bet every guy feels like that. To be a good football player you have got to have confidence in yourself. Not arrogance, but confidence. But, I definitely feel like the most athletic guy on the squad."
If Brown is a starter at corner, Shawntae Spencer -- recovering from an ACL injury suffered last season -- likely would be the third or nickel corner. Beyond that, that 49ers have problems. They drafted Reggie Smith last year in the third round but have since moved him from cornerback to strong safety. Mike Singletary said earlier this week there was a strong possibility that Smith would remain at safety. There's no word yet on whether Harris' injury alters those plans. Another cornerback, Marcus Hudson, has seen scant playing time in his first three seasons and mostly has been used on special teams. The team also did not re-sign Donald Strickland, who started 10 games for the 49ers the last three seasons and who became a free agent this year. Strickland signed with the Jets.
In today's practice, return man Allen Rossum played on the outside at cornerback while Brown played the slot. The other cornerbacks currently on the roster are undrafted rookies Carlos Thomas, Jahi Word-Daniels and Terrail Lambert.
Harris, meanwhile, has been one of the 49ers' best free-agent pickups in recent years. The former Bear, Colt and Redskin joined the 49ers in 2006 and made his first Pro Bowl that year. Harris, who is the oldest member of the defense, has missed two starts in the last three seasons and has a team-high 15 interceptions over that span.
-- Matt Barrows