I'm contemplating handing out an annual award to the 49ers player who shows the most toughness and durability in training camp and the preseason. I shall call it The Iron Bee. Last year's winner is a no brainer. Ricky Jean Francois filled in for camp holdout Aubrayo Franklin at perhaps the most physically demanding position on the field, nose tackle, and played on both the first- and second-string units. He didn't miss a snap.
This year is a little more difficult to judge, but one of the candidates has to be cornerback Tramaine Brock, the second-year player out of Belhaven. While other cornerbacks - Shawntae Spencer, Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Phillip Adams - have missed practice time, Brock has been a mainstay and has been running with the first-team unit for two weeks now. He started Friday's preseason opener and played deep into the second half.
Rogers and Spencer are the presumed starters at cornerback. If they're not healthy by Saturday, however, Brock and Brown will start the game with promising third-round draft pick Chris Culliver in on nickel packages. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked about Brock and Brown on Wednesday.
"They're both good players and they're in the hunt there for being one of the final spots in the secondary," he said. "They have some versatility. They're a little different both in their approach and the way they play the game, but right now we see them as strong possibilities for us."
Brown is one of the quickest players on the team, and last year he entered the game in nickel situations as one of the outside cornerbacks. (Nate Clements slid inside to the slot). Brock is bigger and more physical but doesn't have as much seasoning as Brown, whom the team once envisioned as a starter. Brock can play both outside and inside. He's also shown he can be durable.
Brock was undrafted out of Belhaven University last year. Who is this year's Brock? It might be Cory Nelms of Miami who also has received a lot of practice time due to the injuries and who has gotten better each week in training camp. Nelms wears No. 32.
-- Matt Barrows