It was fascinating (in a football nerd sense) to watch two rookie cornerbacks during training camp practices. On one side, Marcus Cooper. On the other, Darryl Morris.
Cooper looked like an intriguing prospect, due to his above average size and athletic ability. Since he’s 6′ 2″, it was easy to forget that he was clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a 39.5″ vertical leap before the draft. Much like another big cornerback, Richard Sherman, Cooper came to college as a wide receiver. He injured his hand in a “freak cooking accident” during his redshirt freshman season. During his sophomore year, Greg Schiano had a “hunch” that Cooper would play well as a corner. Schiano isn’t a very good NFL head coach, but he was right about Cooper’s future potential on defense.
Morris is four inches shorter than Cooper, but he’s faster — his lowest 40-time was a blazing 4.29.
Both corners seemed fairly equal in terms of plays made and/or surrendered during 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills. Cooper seemed to have a leg up on Morris as far as the roster was concerned, due to his size and the fact that he was drafted (in the seventh round) and Morris was not. Both players ended up getting released — not so much for what they did wrong, but because there were so many veteran corners already on the team.
Cooper, who had impressed Kansas City during their preseason game against the 49ers, signed with the Chiefs. Morris ended up on the 49ers practice squad.
Cooper’s play has been one of the brightest surprises in a season full of them for the Chiefs. He’s the eighth-ranked cornerback according to Pro Football Focus (tied with Tramaine Brock with a score of 7.2), with a QB rating against of 35.0. He has two interceptions, 11 pass deflections and a touchdown after recovering a muffed punt against the Tennessee Titans.
If that sounds familiar, Morris was the one who had this devastating hit on Darius Reynaud after the (former) Titans punt returner let one drop. The ball rolled into the end zone, where it was recovered by Kassim Osgood for a 49ers touchdown.
Morris got his chance to play professionally after Nnamdi Asomugha injured his knee. While he has only played four snaps on defense compared to Cooper’s 241, Morris has been a force for the 49ers’ much-improved coverage units.
“The guys that are consistently showing up with the outstanding play are C.J. Spillman, Bubba Ventrone, Kassim Osgood, Darryl Morris, made two huge plays in this last game,” Harbaugh said today. “I think he is really coming. The forced fumble that led to our touchdown and also a big tackle on the kickoff coverage unit. Really had the chance to show his speed and just how far he’s come as a football player.”
The 49ers are probably kicking themselves for putting their faith in Asomugha, who hasn’t been activated since Week 3 and is a candidate to get cut soon if the 49ers need to make room on the 53-man. However, Morris is already a playmaker on special teams and seemed to play as well as Cooper in August for the most part; perhaps when he gets his opportunity to shine as a corner he’ll give the 49ers the same unexpected boost Cooper gave the Chiefs.