49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

February 23, 2009
Niners to pass on Wilson

Recently released Raiders safety Gibril Wilson is getting attention from several teams, according to his agent. None of them, however, is the 49ers. The 49ers ultimately decided that Wilson is better suited for strong safety than free safety. That seems to be the case for most of the top safeties destined for free agency this year. Which is probably why GM Scot McCloughan on Friday said that the 49ers' starting free safety for 2009 probably is already on the team.

Here's a cut-and-paste job from something I wrote last week that looks at the three top contenders. McCloughan has said subsequently that Jimmy Williams is up to 230 pounds and will be looked at as a strong safety as well. As of now, there is no depth behind Michael Lewis at the position.

The incumbent: Mark Roman. By now, everyone knows that Roman, the team's starting free safety for the past thee years, hasn't had an interception in more than two seasons. In fact, Roman only has seven picks over his nine-year career. By contrast, Baltimore's Ed Reed has 43 career picks and has been in the league two fewer seasons. Roman is the brain center of the defense, the guy who wears the radio receiver, calls the plays and gets the secondary lined up. And in that regard, he is very good. But he lacks ball skills, something the best safeties -- indeed the best defenses - in the league possess.

Challenger No. 1: Dashon Goldson. No one on the 49ers makes more practice interceptions than Goldson. The two-year veteran has height (6-2), size (200-plus pounds), is not shy about hitting and has great coverage ability. Those attributes seem to make him an ideal free safety. What he has going against him, however, are youth and a penchant for injuries. Goldson suffered injuries to both shoulders in college and began his senior season at Washington with a high-ankle sprain. He dealt with an elbow injury right off the bat as a rookie with the 49ers. This past season, he left the Week Two game at Seattle with a knee injury, had to leave the Week Three game against Detroit with a shoulder injury, then left the Week Seven game against the Giants with a knee injury that knocked him out for the next seven games. In short, Goldson has flashed plenty of potential but he's not a guy the 49ers can rely on to man the oh-so-important free safety spot going into 2009.

Challenger No. 2: Jmmy Williams. What's been underreported since the 49ers obtained Williams last month is that they're looking at him not as a cornerback but as a safety. Like Goldson, there's no denying Williams - a standout cornerback at Virginia Tech - has talent. What he's lacked so far is self-discipline and motivation. Character issues dropped him to a second-round pick by the Falcons in 2006 and those concerns turned out to be legitimate. He was cut in June after showing up for spring workouts overweight. Williams played cornerback his rookie season but was moved to safety -- where he also played early on at Virginia Tech -- for 2007. He proved to be a disappointment at that position, was an indifferent special teams performer and was deactivated for two games at the end of the season. Has Williams reversed course? That's what the 49ers are hoping. At the very least, he's gotten back in shape, weighing 220 pounds when the 49ers worked him out this winter. Williams, who stands 6-3, weighed 216 pounds as a rookie in Atlanta.

-- Matt Barrows

MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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