San Francisco 49ers: Tramaine Brock

Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
There is no mystery here.

The San Francisco 49ers should be more worried about the cornerback position than any other spot on the field. In our poll this week, we asked readers to vote on the biggest position of worry for the 49ers. Cornerback received an overwhelming 82 percent of the vote as of 8:55 a.m. ET Thursday. Backup quarterback received 10 percent, while inside linebacker and center each received just four percent of the vote.

The lopsided vote is not a shock. Cornerback is an important position and there is a lot of change there for the 49ers.

Truly, I don't think it's much of a worry. Tramaine Brock was terrific last year. A healthy Chris Culliver, first-round pick Jimmie Ward and rotational player Chris Cook should be able to overcome the offseason departures of Carlos Rogers (cut) and Tarell Brown (left in free agency).

But with a roster that has few worry spots, I can see the June concern at cornerback because of the offseason flux.
There's little doubt the San Francisco 49ers' biggest question area is at cornerback because of all the flux this offseason.

So the fact two veteran cornerbacks were released Friday can't go unnoticed. Kansas City cut Brandon Flowers and Detroit jettisoned Chris Houston. Flowers is likely more intriguing because he has been the better player, while Houston is coming off an injury.
Flowers
Could the 49ers make a run at Flowers?

Ultimately, I'd expect Flowers to get a better deal elsewhere. But I could see the 49ers considering the idea. They have some salary cap room and as previously mentioned, there are questions at the position.

Still, a pursuit of Flowers wouldn't necessarily be a certainty. Flowers is 5-foot-9 and the 49ers are trying to get bigger and more physical at the position. Plus, even though the 49ers have questions at cornerback, there are pretty full there.

Chris Culliver, coming off a torn ACL, is expected to start opposite Tramaine Brock after Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers departed this offseason. First-round pick Jimmie Ward will play the nickel cornerback. The 49ers also have veteran Chris Cook, Eric Wright and Perrish Cox and drafted three rookie cornerback (one, Keith Reaser, is not play because of an injury).

If the 49ers are nervous about what they've seen so far in the offsason they could make a run at Flowers, but I'm not sure they will think it's worth the financial investment.
With organized team activities in full swing for the San Francisco 49ers, the biggest on-field question the team must answer is at cornerback.

The team is undergoing a major transformation at the position. Two of their top three cornerbacks last season -- Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown -- departed this offseason. Rogers was cut and Brown left in free agency. Both signed are now with Oakland.

Tramaine Brock, who was superb last season after starting camp as a special teamer, has emerged as the team's best cornerback. Chris Culliver, who could be subject to an NFL suspension after a felony arrest this offseason, is set to start. He played well in 2012, but missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Jimmie Ward, the team's first-round pick, is a safety, but he will play the nickel cornerback spot this year. He has experience there. Veterans Eric Wright and newly signed Chris Cook and second-year player Darryl Morris are among those who also have a chance at playing time. ESPN's Matt Williamson believes Cook, a former second-round pick who failed to live up to expectations with the Vikings, can improve as a 49er. He is big and physical and a good fit for the defense.

While there are question marks, the truth is, the 49ers were looking to move away from Rogers and Brown and think this can be an upgraded spot. The 49ers are very confident with their defensive coaching staff. Brock developed quickly and their cornerbacks this year can thrive as well.

In the long-term, this position is still a work in progress. Culliver is a free agent after the season and Ward is a long-term safety. The 49ers will likely add to this position next year and hope recent draft picks, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Ken Acker can help next year. Johnson could even figure in this year's plan.

Again, this position will be a storyline all summer, but the 49ers are comfortable with it at this point.

Biggest 49ers questions

May, 19, 2014
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With the NFL draft over and the offseason programs in full swing, let’s look at the three biggest questions facing the San Francisco 49ers:

Kaepernick/Harbaugh contracts: These have been questions all offseason and they linger. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is entering the final year of his contract, while coach Jim Harbaugh has two years remaining. There is a chance both can get done before training camp, yet there is also a solid chance both go through the season without a deal. Could it be a distraction? Perhaps, because it will certainly be a topic for media and fans if there isn't clarity before the season starts.

Aldon Smith: The 49ers are waiting for Smith’s legal issues to be resolved and if he has to serve an NFL suspension in 2014. It is a real possibility. The 49ers went 5-0 last year with Smith when he was in a treatment center for substance abuse. The 49ers are preparing to play without him again.

The cornerbacks: This is one of the few positions where the 49ers have on-field questions. The team is preparing to use Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver as the starting cornerbacks and their first-round pick -- safety Jimmie Ward -- as the nickel cornerback. They have several players vying to be the backups. The biggest question is whether Culliver, who like Smith is dealing with off-field issues, can come back from a torn knee that kept him out all of last season. The team believes he is up for the task.
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be powerbrokers of the first round.

Everyone was expecting them to go make the big move for a top-end receiver in an effort to compete with Super Bowl champion -- and heated NFC West rival -- Seattle.

Instead, the 49ers ended up addressing their one true need -- albeit in an unexpected way.

Instead of trading up for stud LSU receiver Odell Beckham or taking one of the glamour cornerbacks, the 49ers grabbed Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick.

At first glance, it smacked of a curious reach. Yes, Ward was a scout's favorite, but he was considered more of a second-round pick. And he played a position the 49ers made their biggest offseason investment at -- by signing veteran Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $23 million deal.

With receivers Cody Latimer and Marqise Lee still on the board, picking Ward did not initially appear to make much sense. But after digesting the pick, I could see why the 49ers made this pick.

The 49ers' benchmark is defense. With star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman out until about midseason with a torn ACL and star linebacker Aldon Smith's future clouded by a potential NFL suspension, the 49ers need to keep their edge in the early season.

This move should ensure they stay stout in the secondary. In addition to safety Donte Whitner (who Bethea replaces), the 49ers parted ways with their second and third cornerbacks -- Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers -- this offseason. Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are expected to start.

The 49ers want to see Ward become the nickel. He played there often at Northern Illinois. Some teams are using safeties as a nickel and it seems the 49ers are going that route.

There were rumblings the 49ers didn't like any of the four cornerbacks that went in the first round -- Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett. They had the means to trade up and pick any of them and didn't.

Instead, they eyed the hard-hitting, competitive and smart Ward.

This may be out of the box, but it seems like a 49ers move. Having Reid, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, the steady Bethea and Ward on the field together makes this a strong secondary.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke raved about Ward's competitive nature. Coach Jim Harbaugh simply said: "He loves football."

Baalke, who saw Ward play live once, said it was telling that when he asked scouts which games of Ward's he should watch, multiple scouts said, "Pick one." It was Ward's consistency that stood out to the 49ers.

Ward, who had the second most interceptions in the country last season with seven, led his team in tackles and interceptions the past two seasons. Baalke doesn't think coming from a smaller conference will be too much for Ward.

"The stage isn't too big for him," Baalke said.

Ward showed he had the mental toughness for the NFL when he ran for scouts with a broken foot, which is expected to be completely healed by training camp. Ward posted a 4.48 40-time on a bad wheel. That made Baalke smile.

The 49ers may not have stolen headlines with this pick, but they did add a key component to what makes them the 49ers -- an ornery defense.
One of the reasons why the San Francisco 49ers have become consistent contenders over the course of the past three seasons is the way the team has been built.

General manager Trent Baalke is a staunch believer in building through the draft and it shows. ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote Monday about how NFL teams are built. The 49ers are in a four-way tie for the second most homegrown players. The 49ers have 30 players on their roster who they drafted. The Green Bay Packers lead the NFL with 33 players.

On offense, only receiver Anquan Boldin and guard Alex Boone are projected starters for the upcoming season who the 49ers did not draft. Boone was signed as an undrafted free agent and has spent his entire NFL career with the 49ers. On defense, including injured linebacker NaVarro Bowman and troubled linebacker Aldon Smith, six projected starters were drafted plus cornerback Tramaine Brock, who was signed as an undrafted free agent.

Don't expect the 49ers' reliance on home-grown talent to change. The team's free-agency M.O. is always to keep their own players. That likely won't change soon with the Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Smith and Mike Iupati all currently scheduled to be free agents next year.

"We are always going to try to keep our own guys rather than go out in free agency and pay guys that haven't invested themselves in this place like these guys have," Baalke said Friday.

The result is a roster full of players who they have handpicked and developed in what has become a winning system.

Salary-cap look: Defense

April, 15, 2014
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Let’s take a look at how the San Francisco 49ers' 2014 salary-cap status currently breaks down, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.

The 49ers have about $4 million under the cap and will get another $6 million-plus June 1 because of the Carlos Rogers cut. Most of that money will go to signing the rookie class.

At this time of year, only the top 51 contracts count toward the salary-cap. Here's a position-by-position look at the 49ers' salary-cap situation under the top 51 rule. We looked at the offense on Monday. Now, let’s look at the defense:

Defensive line

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 15.23

Total cap charge: $19,519,371

NFL average: $21,632,204

Biggest cap hit: Justin Smith, $6,936,667

Biggest bargain: Tony Jerod-Eddie, $495,000

Outlook: The 49ers are getting pretty good value out of this position. Smith is nearing the end of his career, but he is still productive. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald’s cap number is more than $5 million, but he’s also productive. The rest of the unit are pretty reasonably priced.

Linebackers

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 22.69

Total cap charge: $29,083,725

NFL average: $15,201,455

Biggest cap hit: NaVorro Bowman, $7,050,000

Biggest bargain: Michael Wilhoite, $570,000

Outlook: The 49ers are paying their linebackers almost double the league average. But it is perhaps the best unit in the NFL. Thus, they are getting what they pay for. Even though he is taking up the most cap room, Bowman will miss about half the season because of a torn ACL. Wilhoite has the best chance to replace him. This position could be even more expensive next year. Aldon Smith has a cap number of more than $4 million this year. The 49ers may give him a 2015 option with a price tag of more than $9 million. But again, the value is there from this group. With quarterback Colin Kaepernick getting more money soon, the 49ers will have to take cap room from other positions, with running back an area that could be reduced in 2015.

Cornerback

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 3.62

Total cap charge: $4,645,719

NFL average: $12,316,626

Biggest cap hit: Tramaine Brock, $2,000,000

Biggest bargain: Darryl Morris, $495,000

Outlook: Along with quarterback (and that will change soon), this is the 49ers’ biggest bargain area. They pay their cornerbacks more than 60 percent less than the NFL average. Yes, the group is young and that is a reason for the low average. The 49ers may use a first-round pick at the position and that will change things. But this position will remain a relative bargain for the next few years, which will help expected raises at other positions.

Safety

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 7.63

Total cap charge: $9,784,111

NFL average: $8,237,006

Biggest cap hit: Antoine Bethea, $3,000,000

Biggest bargain: Eric Reid, $1,927,444

Outlook: The 49ers are just above the league average at safety, but they get production. Reid, a first-round pick last year, gives great value and they also get strong special teams production from C.J. Spillman, Bubba Ventrone and Craig Dahl.
No position on the San Francisco 49ers has more uncertainty than cornerback -- and it's not even close.

The team only has one solid starter in place, but there are several players who could emerge. Of course, the 49ers could add a cornerback in a dwindling free-agent market and will surely pick one or two in the May 8-10 draft.

Let's take a look at where the 49ers stand at cornerback:

Brock
Starters:

Tramaine Brock: A year ago, no one would have guess he would be the most reliable cornerback on the team. But Brock made the huge leap from a special teams to the No. 1 cornerback. He was terrific in 2013 and it earned him a four-year contract extension.

Chris Culliver: This is very fluid. The 49ers have confidence in Culliver, but, in a perfect world, he will play the nickel. Culliver, who has proven in the past he can play, missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Still, he's the type of player who would likely be a better No. 3 than a No. 2.

Slot candidates:

Eric Wright: The veteran is talented and has performed well in the past. Yet, he didn't do much last season. It was a mild surprise the 49ers re-signed him to a one-year deal. Wright, who was inactive by the end of the season, has a chance to help if he can gain the coaching staff's trust.

Cook
Chris Cook: He is the 49ers' lone offseason addition at the position so far. Cook, a second-round pick by Minnesota in 2010, has struggled at times -- on and off the field. But there are some positives; he's 6-foot-2 and the team wants him to play in press coverage. Also, he came at a cheap price, getting paid the league minimum with no bonus. Perhaps the light will come on with strong coaching.

Young players with potential:

Darryl Morris: He opened eyes on special teams as an undrafted rookie last season. Coaches think he can help on defense, too.

Dax Swanson: He's a practice-squad player who will get a chance to impress in training camp.

Departed:

Tarell Brown: Brown, a starter much of last season, went across the bay to Oakland for a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The 49ers wanted him back, but not at that price. He is solid and must be replaced.

Carlos Rogers: Cut by the 49ers, there's always a chance he could be brought back at a much reduced price. But I think the 49ers would like to move on.

Cox
Still possible:

Perrish Cox: It's telling that Wright was signed before he was. But similar to Rogers' situation, I guess the door can't be completely closed.

Potential future additions:

The remaining free-agent market is not overly enticing. The top players are Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Antonio Cromartie. Others include Champ Bailey and Jabari Greer. Rodgers-Cromartie would be a good fit, but he wants too much money. The good news for the 49ers is the draft is stacked at this position and they could easily find a starting-quality player in the early rounds.

Conclusion:

The 49ers need to add here and they will probably do it through the draft. If they get the right player, they should be fine. Having players like Culliver, Wright and Cook as a rotation player is not a terrible situation. The key will be, whoever is brought on to the team, he must be ready to contribute right away.
Much has been made about the Seattle Seahawks building their Super Bowl-winning roster on the power of undrafted free agents. Seattle had 21 undrafted free agents on their 53-man roster.

The Seahawks’ biggest competitor, the San Francisco 49ers, also have built their roster with the help of undrafted free agents. The 49ers ended the season with 16 of their 53 players being players who entered the league after not being drafted. They also have defensive tackle Ian Williams, who was on the injured reserve, as an undrafted player in their program.

Let’s take a look at the 17 San Francisco players who were not drafted:

Guard Alex Boone
Cornerback Tramaine Brock
Tight end Derek Carrier (originally signed by Oakland)
Tight end Garrett Celek
Safety Craig Dahl (Giants)
Kicker Phil Dawson (Oakland)
Defensive tackle DeMarcus Dobbs
Defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie
Long-snapper Kevin McDermott
Cornerback Darryl Morris
Receiver Kassim Osgood (San Diego)
Linebacker Dan Skuta (Cincinnati)
Safety C.J. Spillman (San Diego)
Fullback Will Tukuafu (Seattle)
Safety Bubba Ventrone (New England)
Linebacker Michael Wilhoite
Defensive tackle Ian Williams

49ers rankings: 16-20

February, 13, 2014
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We are taking a look at the top 60 players in the San Francisco 49ers' program and will rank them from 1-60. We are going to take a look in a 12-part series, moving upward. The ranking considerations are based on 2013 production, future projections, age, and contract status:

16. Safety Donte Whitner: Whitner is a solid player. He had a good season in coverage and he is an enforcer. He is a free agent and he could command a big deal elsewhere. I know the 49ers have other long-term needs, but keeping Whitner is vital.

17. Defensive lineman Ray McDonald: If he played on a less star-studded defense, he might be a standout player. But he is a perfect fit for this unit and is simply solid.

18. Cornerback Tramaine Brock: No player improved as much as Brock did in 2013. He went from a special team player to the 49ers’ best cornerback. He was rewarded with a four-year contract and his future is bright.

19. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey: He was a great free-agent addition, is a terrific fit for this defense, and a strong part of the rotation.

20. fullback Bruce Miller: The run game missed him when he was lost for the season with a broken scapula in December. The 49ers will welcome this unique player back with open arms.

49ers' 2013 breakout stars

February, 10, 2014
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The San Francisco 49ers saw some players take the next step in their careers in 2013. Let's look at the top three players who enjoyed breakout seasons:

1. Tramaine Brock: Brock had a stunning ascent in 2013. He went from being a special teamer in training camp to finishing the season as the 49ers' top cornerback. It earned him a four-year contract extension. He has a place as a starter for the long term.

2. Glenn Dorsey: This worked out great for the 49ers. The nose tackle blossomed in his first season in San Francisco after signing a two-year deal. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 by Kansas City. He was just average with the Chiefs before having a standout season with the 49ers.

3. Tony Jerod-Eddie: This is an interesting player. He spent most of the 2012 season on the practice squad. Yet he quickly developed and become a key part of the defensive line, helping keep veterans Justin Smith and Ray McDonald fresh.
Let’s wrap up the San Francisco 49ers' season that saw the team make it to the NFC Championship Game by giving some awards:

Bowman
MVP: Linebacker NaVorro Bowman. He was dominant all season long. The inside linebacker took over nearly every game he played in. He was the engine of a strong defense. Obviously, the season ended sadly for Bowman. He suffered a major knee injury in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game. Of course, Bowman was hurt by making an outstanding play.

Offensive player of the year: Receiver Anquan Boldin. Acquired in a trade with Baltimore last March, Boldin has the key to the offense. He saved the offense when Michael Crabtree was out for the first 11 games of the season. Boldin continued to dominate when Crabtree came back. He came up with one important catch after another and had one of his best NFL seasons at the age of 33.

Defensive player of the year: Linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Bowman was the team’s best player, but Brooks wasn't far behind. He was a force both as a pass-rusher and as a run-stopper. A superb edge defender.

Reid
Rookie of the year: Safety Eric Reid. The first-round pick made the Pro Bowl after a season in which he showed he belonged from the first game. What sticks out about Reid was he looked like a five-year pro. The 49ers deserve credit for moving up from No. 31 to No. 18 to nab Reid.

Assistant coach of the year: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. What a supreme coach. His unit is top notch and a big reason is because it is so prepared. Fangio’s unit is always ready, no matter the challenge.

Play of the year: It has to be Bowman’s 89-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minutes to seal a win over Atlanta. Not only was that a tremendous play, which was set up by a deflected pass by cornerback Tramaine Brock, but it had enormous ramifications. The win clinched a playoff spot for the 49ers and it was the final game at Candlestick Park. What a way to send it out. No one in attendance will ever forget it.

Dawson
Game of the year: The wild-card playoffs win at Green Bay. The game was played in temperatures that were around zero. The 49ers won the game as the clock expired on a Phil Dawson field goal. It was a total gut-check win.

Top newcomer: Maybe we should call this the defensive newcomer. Because we already recognized Boldin, we are going with defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. He was considered a bust after being the No. 5 overall pick by Kansas City in 2008. He was just OK with the Chiefs. But he came to San Francisco and flourished under Fangio and fit in with his defensive line mates.

Comeback player of the year: Crabtree tore his Achilles in May, but the 49ers' offense was instantly improved when he returned in December. He showed what a valuable member of the unit he is.

Most improved player: Brock. He went from being a special-teamer in August to finishing the season as the 49ers’ No.1 cornerback. He took advantage of injuries and answered every challenge. It earned him a four-year, $16 million contract extension.

Specialist of the year: Dawson. In his first season with the 49ers, Dawson was clutch and made countless big kicks. He was 32-of-36 on field goal attempts and he made 27 straight attempts at one point. He was part of a much improved special-teams unit.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 4
Preseason Power Ranking: 2

Biggest surprise: The impact that Michael Crabtree's injury and then his return had on the team. When Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles in May, the 49ers knew it would affect their offense. But his absence was felt dramatically during the 11 games he was out. The 49ers had essentially nothing behind receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis in the passing game. However, when he returned Dec. 1, the 49ers were instantly a better, more varied, dangerous offense. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was more confident. The difference was stark.

Biggest disappointment: The loss at New Orleans on Nov. 17. The 49ers appeared to have sealed the game when linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked and forced New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to fumble late. But Brooks was called for a questionable personal foul. The Saints rallied to win. It was a major storyline in the NFL that week. Had the 49ers won, they would have finished 13-3, won a tiebreaker over Seattle in the NFC West and would not have had to play at Seattle in the playoffs.

Biggest need: The 49ers are deep. They don't have many holes. But they can use another young receiver. Boldin is 33 and a free agent. Fourth-round pick Quinton Patton looks promising, but San Francisco will likely take a speed receiver early in the draft. Expect the team to take a cornerback fairly early as well. The 49ers need to develop a young player there.

Team MVP: Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 25-year-old had an amazing season. He is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He was dominant in virtually every game. He is a special playmaker. It was a sad sight seeing him being carted off in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss at Seattle with a major knee injury. Bowman is expected back next season. The 49ers need him.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The San Francisco 49ers are headed to Green Bay on Friday with questions at cornerback -- as there has been all week.

The team listed Carlos Rogers and his replacement, Eric Wright, as questionable to play in Sunday's wild-card game. Both players have hamstring injuries. It appears Wright may have a better chance of playing than Rogers.

Wright was injured in practice Thursday but returned Friday. Rogers missed practice all week after getting hurt Sunday at Arizona. His optimism waned as the week went on.

Tarell Brown and newly signed Perrish Cox will play extensively along with Tramaine Brock. So Wright will be needed. Barring a setback, he should be able to play.

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