SANTA CLARA — After a second straight tumultuous offseason, Chris Culliver could use another fresh start.
Only 14 months after his Super Bowl fiasco in which he made anti-gay remarks quoted from coast to coast, the cornerback was arrested March 28 on suspicion of felony hit and run and reckless driving after police said he drove a car into a bicyclist near downtown San Jose and fled the scene.
Back on the football field for organized team activities, Culliver is pushing himself just enough to ensure he is at full strength for the start of training camp July 23. His 2013 season ended before it began with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee sustained during training camp last August. He was in line to be a starter.
Culliver won’t specifically address his legal case, yet it’s clear he is determined to turn things around and set an example.
“It’s pretty fresh (starting over now). I’ve been here all my four years,” he said this week. “It’s a new beginning but we’re just helping people come along and helping myself. It’s going to be positive.”
He also hopes to rediscover the strides he made during 2012 while emerging as a reliable defender in coordinator Vic Fangio’s system.
Ideally, that would be at the start of training camp next month.
“I expect that, yes. God willing and the creek don’t rise,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Yeah, he’s been working. Yeah, practicing.”
He has been participating in the offseason program, sometimes in a more limited capacity than those not coming back from injury. Culliver had more to deal with this offseason than he might have expected.
“I’m a guy who likes to get out there and compete and play,” he said. “You don’t want stumbles, you want to keep progressing. That’s what I’m doing right now. I feel good, soon to be feeling great.”
He pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor hit-and-run charges and felony possession of brass knuckles after the March arrest.
General manager Trent Baalke said last month he holds his players to high standards, and still believes in them despite a recent run of off-field issues, which has included linebacker Aldon Smith’s legal trouble that could lead to an NFL suspension.
“I’m adamant in my thoughts that this is a good group of men. Have they made some mistakes? Absolutely they have. I’m not going to sit up and defend them,” Baalke said. “There is concern. We hold ourselves to a high standard. The community deserves that. We represent the community.”
Authorities said a witness followed the 25-year-old Culliver, who also drove into the car of the witness, and that vehicle blocked the player’s car until police arrived and arrested Culliver.
After searching Culliver’s car, the authorities found illegal brass knuckles and booked him into Santa Clara County Jail for felony hit and run, felony reckless driving with injury, felony possession of brass knuckles, misdemeanor hit and run and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license.
In 2013, Culliver caused controversy by expressing anti-gay sentiments in the lead-up to the Super Bowl.
During Super Bowl media day at the Superdome in New Orleans that year, Culliver responded to questions from comedian Artie Lange by saying he wouldn’t welcome a gay player in the locker room. He also said the 49ers didn’t have any homosexual players and, if they did, those players should leave. He later apologized, facing a large group of Super Bowl media members for nearly an hour.
Culliver underwent sensitivity training as well and began doing outreach work with The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis and suicide intervention to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Culliver, a third-round draft pick in 2011 out of South Carolina, made 47 tackles with two interceptions and a forced fumble during the 2012 season while starting six games for the Niners. They lost in the Super Bowl that season to Baltimore.
He would like to forget all of that, though there will be constant scrutiny going forward.
“Really we’re just focused on what we’ve got going on in here, the new additions we have, helping them come along, all the corners we’ve got coming in,” Culliver said. “They’re rookies and they don’t know, so we just try to do our best and be the veterans in helping them and pushing them and molding them into what we need for this group to become.”