Culliver shifts focus to the football field

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Culliver shifts focus to the football field
January 31, 2013, 5:30 pm
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The 49ers selected Chris Culliver in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

I didn’t sleep that much. I tossed and turned thinking about it. It affected me, yes, and that's why I'm addressing it today.
—Chris Culliver

NEW ORLEANS -- A prerequisite of being a quality NFL cornerback is possessing a short memory.

In other words, cornerbacks must be resilient enough to bounce back after a bad play. It's just the nature of the game. Every cornerback is going to have difficult times in a league in which the rules are skewed to promote the passing game.

Chris Culliver's difficult time has been of his own making during the week of Super Bowl XLVII. Culliver made a name for himself because of an interview with a radio comedian during which he made homophobic comments.

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"I didn’t sleep that much," Culliver said Thursday. "I tossed and turned thinking about it. It affected me, yes, and that's why I'm addressing it today."

Safety Donte Whitner said he does not believe the controversy will impact Culliver's preparation or performance Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

"He's a pretty headstrong guy," Whitner said. "I don't think it'll bother him. I don't think he knew what he was doing when he was doing this. So it's not going to bother him.

"If we all brought our problems onto the football field every day, none of us wold be able to do our jobs. You have to focus on the task at hand and let the other stuff go. He should be able to do that."

[MAIOCCO: York expects Culliver to follow through on pledge]

Culliver is not listed as a starter, but he played more than 63 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps this season as the team's No. 3 cornerback behind veterans Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. Culliver will be matched plenty against Baltimore receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith in Sunday's game.

Culliver has made significant strides since his rookie season after the 49ers selected him in the third round of the draft. He played all but seven games at safety in his career at South Carolina, yet the 49ers projected him at cornerback.

"He really wasn't looking that good at corner but he was a big guy who could run," Whitner said. "Coach (Ed) Donatell is always in his ear. Coach Donatell deserves a lot of credit, being with him every day, every meeting, every walk-through, always calling out his name, and aggravating him."

Culliver worked his way into the role as the third cornerback a year ago after injuries to Shawntae Spencer and Tramaine Brock. This season, Culliver continued his progress with two interceptions and 14 passes broken up in 16 games. Opposing quarterbacks had a 76.9 passer rating when targeting Culliver, according to Pro Football Focus.

Donatell, the 49ers' defensive backs coach, said playing safety for most of his college career helped Culliver develop his tackling skills. And he lauds veteran cornerbacks for helping mold Culliver's skills in coverage.

"He's come a long way in two years," Donatell said. "He plays a lot for our football team and brings good toughness. You have to give credit to Carlos and T-Brown. They took him under their wings and were good examples for him."

Said Rogers, "He's been stepping up and making plays on deep balls, short balls and tackling. He's understanding what it takes to be a professional athlete."

Culliver hopes to put the controversy behind him and become known for his play on the field rather than his insensitive remarks just days before the Super Bowl.

"I learned a lot about the scheme and our whole organization and how things work," Culliver said of his play on the field. "With technique and everything, I'm just trying to become an elite corner and be the best out there."