Poor Tarrell Brown. Since training camp has begun, the 49ers cornerback has drawn Randy Moss an awful lot in one-on-one coverage, and on most plays that's bad news for Brown.
On Wednesday, however, Brown appeared to have the upper hand. He had Moss blanketed as the two came across the middle of the field on a crossing pattern. But as Alex Smith's pass arrived, Moss slowed for an instance, put his hip into Brown and created just enough space for the ball to slip past the defender's outstretched arm and into the receiver's hands.
That bit of magic - and veteran savvy - is why every cornerback on the roster wants to go against Moss as much as possible. Because they learn something every time. No one on the defense pities Brown. They envy him.
"We want to go against the ones (the first-string receivers) all the time," said the team's other starting cornerback, Carlos Rogers. "... We want that challenge each and every practice. The competition is big."
During the offseason, the 49ers bolstered their wide receiving corps by signing Moss and Mario Manningham. They also brought in a number of fleet-footed rookie receivers including first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins and undrafted free agents Chris Owusu and Nathan Palmer.
While those moves were made to add punch to what was a listless down-field passing attack last year, the 49ers defense also is taking advantage this summer. "I think any time you go against quality players, it helps you improve," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "We added to our depth and quality on offense and it will have a residual effect on us defensively and we'll be better prepared for going against quality players."
The 49ers have a phalanx of quality players looming on their schedule. Not only will they face the five most prolific passers from last season, they'll also square off against Detroit's Calvin Johnson, New England's Wes Welker, the Giants' Victor Cruz and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (twice). They were the top four wideouts in terms of receiving yards last year.
They'll also face a number of teams - beginning with Week 1 opponent Green Bay - who regularly use four-wide receiver alignments. That's why developing a nickel cornerback in addition to Rogers is so important for the 49ers this year. Two are needed against four-receiver sets.
Fangio said Brown also can play the position and that the team is working on developing Perrish Cox and undrafted safety Michael Thomas for the nickel role.
-- Matt Barrows