Their NFC West opponents may have added new weaponry at the slot receiver position this offseason, but the 49ers aren't planning any changes as far as who will cover them. Veteran Carlos Rogers has been the team's nickel cornerback since 2011, and the plan is for him to continue in that role, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week.
Asked if he envisions Rogers playing the nickel role again this year, Fangio said, "Yeah, right now I do. Yes."
Fangio moved Rogers into the position in 2011. It was the first time he had filled that role, and it was largely a success. Rogers finished that season with a career-high six interceptions and, in the team's first meeting with the New York Giants at least, handled one of the shiftiest slot receivers in the league, Victor Cruz.
Fangio has said that Rogers' combination of athleticism and smarts were the right fit for the role. "He's got a really good understanding, as you would think a veteran would, but some guys never master it," Fangio said last year. "He's got a good understanding of what the offenses are trying to do from route concepts, and he has good anticipation."
But Rogers and the 49ers also have been hurt by slot receivers, beginning with Cruz in the 2011 NFC Championship game. Percy Harvin, Danny Amendola and Chris Givens all had big games against the 49ers last year (all non-wins for the 49ers), and Rogers often struggled to keep pace with smaller but quicker wideouts.
That issue became more magnified this offseason when the 49ers' top rival in the NFC West, the Seahawks, traded for Harvin while up-and-coming St. Louis drafted jitterbug-quick wideout Tavon Austin in the first round.
Fangio and the 49ers prefer to have bigger cornerbacks in the nickel position because they play so close to the trenches and must be able to play a linebacker-like role as well as that of cornerback. While Rogers has been nursing a minor injury this month, Perrish Cox and safety Michael Thomas mostly have been filling in at nickel cornerback.
- Matt Barrows