49ers’ McQuarters Might Start
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) _ The San Francisco 49ers have been concerned about their patchwork secondary for some time now. On Wednesday, they decided they could no longer ignore the problem.
Curtis Buckley, a special teams standout and the units’ inspirational leader, was waived Wednesday and the 49ers signed cornerback Tyrone Legette.
Also, rookie R.W. McQuarters, who practiced Wednesday in place of ailing right cornerback Marquez Pope, may make his first start Sunday, when San Francisco (7-2) plays NFC West co-leader Atlanta (7-2).
Coach Steve Mariucci said the decision to release the popular Buckley was difficult but the shortage of healthy cornerbacks on the team left him with little choice.
``That was a tough one and a part of the job you really hate, having to let a guy go you care about,″ Mariucci said. ``He’s been a real good 49er and really brought some spunk and energy to our special teams.
``But while he played on a lot of special teams and contributed in that way, he didn’t play any defensive snaps. With the health of our corners, we simply needed another person that had experience playing there.″
The depleted secondary has been vulnerable to big plays and the 49ers rank 25th in the league against the pass.
With Antonio Langham still sidelined by a knee injury and Pope hurting, San Francisco faced going into the Atlanta game with only two healthy cornerbacks (Darnell Walker and McQuarters) before the addition of Legette.
A seventh-year pro, Legette was released by Tampa Bay prior to the season. He spent his first four years in the league with New Orleans.
``He’s got a lot of catching up to do, to be thrown into a game at corner but we’re going to try to keep it simple,″ Mariucci said. ``He would be an emergency guy.″
Legette, who played under 49ers secondary coach Jim Mora in New Orleans, has also played special teams and said he didn’t anticipate any problem if called on to play in either capacity.
``I feel as if I can go ahead and contribute this week, especially on special teams or come in and play a little corner,″ Legette said.
McQuarters, the 49ers top draft pick, also moved closer to his first career start because of the back problems plaguing Pope, who watched practice from the sidelines Wednesday.
Pope missed the first five games with a lower back strain and really hasn’t been able to shake free of the injury since his return.
In each of the last two games, Pope’s back has given out in the fourth quarter and McQuarters has finished in his place.
``His role when we drafted him was to be a special teams player first and backup corner,″ Mariucci said of McQuarters. ``He’s been just that and now he has an opportunity to possibly play even more than that.
``He’s been playing in the nickle. He hasn’t had a start but he’s growing up fast for a young rookie.″
With Pope’s condition uncertain from one day to the next, McQuarters said Mora has counseled him to be prepared.
″ `Just be ready to play,′ he tells me, because I don’t think even ’Quez knows what his back is going to do,″ McQuarters said.
Mariucci said if McQuarters starts, Pope still may be able to play in nickle alignments.