49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 28, 2006

Question: Thanks for the great insight on the 49ers, Matt. It has come to my attention that when Alex Smith was signed he was only inked to a three-year deal. Is this true? If so, are the Niners committed to locking him up long term provided his contract may be up next season? With all of the improvement we've seen in Alex, I'd hate to see him go elsewhere when the Niners appear to be turning the corner going from what may have been the worst team in the NFL to what may be a playoff contender very soon. Thanks.
- Rick Redding, Sacramento

Answer: Don't worry, Rick. Alex Smith is locked up through the 2010 season when he will be the ripe old age of 26. If he continues to progress (and I think he will), look for the 49ers to start talking about a contract extension in 2008.
- Matthew Barrows

September 20, 2006

Question: Matt, You keep mentioning a weak pass rush because the DL are all DT's. Wrong. The 3-man line is not supposed to get sacks. The basic point about a 3-4 is that the offense doesn't know who the 4th pass rusher will be or where he'll come from. A 3-4 is designed to use run-stuffing linemen, which are relatively easy to find, and make stars out of the defensive skill positions. Remember that LT was an OLB in a 3-4, and so was Charles Haley when he was here. Porter and Merriman are, too.
-- Rich, San Ramon

Answer: I agree with you about the basic concepts of a 3-4 defense. The problem is that the 49ers aren't running a 3-4 all the time. They began Sunday's game with four down linemen -- Melvin Oliver, Bryant Young, Anthony Adams and Marques Douglas.

Oliver and Douglas are both stout guys who hold up nicely against the run, but they are not particularly adept at getting after the quarterback. In other words, they're built more like defensive tackles. It would seem to me that if you play half the game in a 4-3 defense (which the 49ers did Sunday) you would want traditional defensive ends that can rush the passer.
-- Matt


Question: I see that you have also noticed the log jam of dts playing de. Are the Niners going to look for a free agent/draft pick next year or is this Nolan's plans for his 3-4 with lineman taking up blockers so lbs can blitz?
-- Alex, Shingle Springs

Answer: Nolan would prefer to run the 3-4 defense because he and d-coordinator Billy Davis can be more creative with it than with a 4-3. The issue this year is that the team doesn't have the personnel to run it the way Nolan envisions.

As Rich noted in the previous e-mail, the 3-4 is designed to allow the linebackers to make the big plays. So I would imagine that if Nolan were to use a high draft pick on the front seven, it would be at linebacker. Perhaps he and Scot McCloughan are considering using one of their many fourth-round picks in April on a more traditional 3-4 defensive end such in the mold of the Cowboys' Chris Canty (6-7, 300 pounds), Greg Ellis (6-6, 270 pounds) and Marcus Spears (6-4, 298 pounds).
-- Matt


Question: Obviously the offense looks great so far. Come week 17, what type of stats do you see for our big 4 (Smith, Gore, Bryant, Davis). Thanks.
-- David A Spohn, Roseville

Answer: So many things will happen between now and Dec. 31 that it's not prudent to make predictions. Ok, I'll make one -- Frank the Tank will be among the Top 7 running backs by the end of the season. If he stays healthy ... and the 49ers don't fall behind early in games ... and if he doesn't fall victim to over use ... and teams don't start putting eight men in the box ... and ... and ...
--Matt

September 20, 2006

Question: The 49ers defensive secondary got a lot of credit for Sunday's win vs. the Rams. Don't you think that the reason the secondary has been unfairly criticized for more than two years now is because, at least until this past Sunday, there hasn't been even a hint of a pass rush? Even the best DBs can't cover a receiver for nine seconds. I really don't think it's a coincidence that the 49ers started shutting down the opposition passing game when they put pressure on the quarterback. As a result, we weren't really aware of how good the secondary really was.
-- David Kennedy, Antelope

Answer: Maybe, but it's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario at work here. You could argue that half of the defense's six sacks Sunday were a result of the secondary playing so well. That is, the reason the defense wasn't getting a lot of pressure in the past is because the coverage wasn't all that great. Two things stand out with the unit this year. One is that Walt Harris is a vast improvement over Ahmed Plummer, Bruce Thornton and the host of other players who had to fill in at cornerback last season. The second is that if it weren't for Alex Smith, Mike Adams would get the "Most Improved" award this season. Brains are vital at that position, and he's one of the smarter guys on the team.

But before we start filling out Pro Bowl ballots, let's wait and see what the pass rush and secondary do against a ticked off Eagles team. Last year, the 49ers sacked Marc Bulger seven times (he still had 362 passing yards incidentally) in Week One. The next week Donovan McNabb dropped 342 yards and five TDs on them, and he didn't even play the whole game.
-- Matthew Barrows

September 19, 2006

Question: Matt,
How do you find out who the 49ers deactivate for a game? I can usually figure out some of the obvious ones, but there are always a few that I'm not sure about. I would assume that Walker, Williams, J Jennings, Allen, Hill and Tucker were on the list but I'm not positive about the final two.

Thanks,
Ken Adams, Sacramento

Answer: Good guess, Ken -- you're right about those six. Fullback Moran Norris and LB/DE Roderick Green also were deactivated for the Rams game. For Green, it was a bad sign. He was released today (Tuesday) and defensive lineman Damane Duckett took his place on the active roster. Fullback Zak Keasey replaced Duckett on the practice squad. It's likely that rookie Parys Haralson's return from a foot injury made Green expendable.

As far as finding out the deactives in the future, I'll try to include them in the "Notes" section the day after the game. Can't make any guarantees, though -- space is tight ....
-- Matt


Question: I can't help but notice this about the Rams, and I'm curious if this gets brought up in the press box. I watch a good portion of the Rams games every year, and I have never seen a more overrated pair of receivers than Holt and Bruce.

Once again Sunday, there wasn't one instance where they weren't sprinting full speed out of bounds, or falling down once thrown to. They make zero effort for extra yardage, or have the guts to run a crossing route. Bryant and Battle are always doing the opposite - fighting, clawing, and taking hits for yards.
-- Lebowski, Los Angeles

Answer: Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Or if you're more familiar with Lombardi than Shakespeare -- sometimes it's better to run out of bounds so you can play another down. Both Bruce and Holt are a little under 190 pounds and Bruce is in his 13th season. Sure, they're no longer the best tandem in the NFL (fourth best?) but I'm not sure they're overrated either. Holt, after all, finished sixth in receiving yards last year ...
-- Matt

September 15, 2006

Question: In this past weeks game against Arizona I noticed that the defense played well against the run and struggled against the pass. The pass rush seemed adequate enough to slow down the Cardinals' passing attack, however, the exact opposite occurred. At times Warner appeared to be throwing against air. In your opinion do the Niners need an overhaul in the secondary or is this a flaw in the secondary scheme? What needs to be done to fix the problem?
- Rick Redding, Sacramento

Answer: Thanks for the question, Rick. The 49ers were able to crank up their pass rush late in the game, but it was virtually non-existent in the first half, especially the first quarter. Remember that short TD pass to Anquan Boldin? Warner had enough time to change the oil in his car, much less throw a pass. I think the overriding problem is the front seven. Manny Lawson is going to be a good pass rusher, but he's not there yet. The defensive line is composed almost entirely of defensive tackles, which is why it is good at stopping the run but not so hot at getting after the quarterback. The secondary needs work, but an improved front seven would make the group look much better. Also remember that they were playing the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL.
- Matt Barrows

Question: What do you think about Rogers? As a first-round draft pick would you say he's a bust or worth the 49ers to take a look at?
- Nick, Austin, Texas

Answer: I think the 49ers would say he's a bust. There's no interest in him and not much in Jerry Porter, either. Remember, this was a team that put Joe Jurevicius at the top of their receiver wish list this March. That is, they would prefer guys who work hard and who don't cause trouble. (So why did they pick up Antonio Bryant, you ask?) Bryant was able to convince Nolan he had matured. The other guys evidently haven't sold him on that.
- Matt Barrows

September 13, 2006

Question: Any rumors about how and if the 49ers are going to spend their $10 million worth of cap space?
-- Dustin, Sacramento

Answer: Well, they probably won't spend it on anything extravagant, such as Raiders receiver Jerry Porter. Instead, the team plans to start imitating teams like the Eagles in Patriots in signing players to long-term contracts when they have two years remaining on their current contracts.

This year, that means guys like Adam Snyder, Shawntae Spencer, Frank Gore, Mike Adams and Maurice Hicks likely will be offered new deals. In other words, the 49ers are more concerned about winning tomorrow than they are at winning today ...
-- Matt Barrows


Question: I was under the impression Mike Nolan's specialty was defensive. What gives. Granted the Cardinals had some offensive weapons on display last week, but what are we to expect from the defense this year. I'm not too excited given the points our division can put up.
-- Kyle Tran, SF

Answer: Thanks, Kyle. If you had followed the team's offseason moves, you'd know that most of them occurred on offense, not defense.

I think there's a sense in this league that you can disguise defensive deficiencies better than you can offensive ones, and Nolan, as you noted, is known for his defensive schemes.

Still, there's only so much scheming you can do when you can't generate a pass rush. What do you expect when nearly every one of your defensive linemen is a defensive tackle? ... Look for the defense to get its overhaul this offseason, Kyle.
-- Matt Barrows


Question: Will the 49ers win a game this year? Are they wishing they had drafted Matt Lienart now?

I'm so sorry, but if Alex Smith doesn't step up in the first half of the season and start winning, move over Ryan Leaf and Jim Drunkenmiller.

I know Smith is politer and more courteous than the two of them.
-- Long Time Fan, Sacramento

Answer: First question, yes. Second question, no. You can blame a lot of the 2005 losses on Smith, but I'm not sure you can do the same with their Week 1 loss to the Cardinals.

Smith's 288 passing yards were the fourth-best of any quarterback this past weekend. In my opinion, Smith will ultimately be successful because he's a smart guy (unlike Drunkenmiller) and is good at coping with adversity (unlike Leaf).
-- Matt Barrows


Question: I was extremely impressed with the offensive performance against the Cardinals. I'm not sure if the Cardinals Defense was a really good test but Alex Smith and the boys seemed to be doing some very good things, despite adveristy on the O-line.

However, what are the 49ers going to do about giving Bryant some help? Gilmore seemed to do some good things but I thought that Battle was going to give us a good 1-2 punch with our receivers. I think that we might have missed a golden opportunity in not picking up Branch. What do you think?
-- Sean Theriault, Reno, Nev.

Answer: The 49ers' motto, especially as they continue to rebuild: "A draft pick is a terrible thing to waste."

That being said, Nolan ****NEVER**** would have parted with a first-rounder to get Branch as the Seahawks did. That doesn't mean Nolan thinks Branch is a bad player. In fact, he admitted Wednesday that he would have strongly preferred that Branch landed somewhere other than the NFC West.

As for Gilmore, as the fastest 49er, his assignment often is to stretch the field and open up the middle for Vernon Davis. That is, his value can't always be measured in catches and receiving yards ...
-- Matt Barrows


Question: Jerry Porter will probably be ushered out of Oakland if the right deal comes along. The 49ers are looking for a receiver to play opposite Bryant.

Why wouldnt' Nolan consider it? If character is a concern, earlier, Dion Branch and Dante Stallworth were available. What are your thoughts?
-- Frank Gutierrez, Emeryville

Answer: It's a good question, Frank. Porter wouldn't have to find a new house, the Raiders would be rid of a locker-room cancer and the 49ers would have two talented wideouts to go along with Vernon Davis. But I don't see it happening. Nolan is very sensitive about the makeup of his locker-room and he already went out on a limb in signing Bryant, who has more than a few dubious incidents on his resume. Putting Bryant and Porter together could be explosive for all the wrong reasons.

As for the other two receivers, the Niners are loathe to give up any draft picks while they are in rebuilding mode. The Saints also apparently were in the market for a linebacker and we know full well the Niners don't have any to spare ...
-- Matt Barrows


Question: Why did the 49ers give up on bruce thorton and derrick johnson? they seemed to have great potential and were both young???
-- Tabrez A., Elk Grove

Answer: I think Derrick Johnson would have made the team if he hadn't gotten hurt in the final preseason game. As it happened, B.J. Tucker was close enough to Johnson in talent to snag that final spot.

As for Thornton, he was the johnny on the spot last season, but didn't do anything to distinguish himself in training camp. The coaching staff thought Marcus Hudson, who is bigger and much, much more physical, has a much better upside.
-- Matt Barrows

September 12, 2006

Question: I'm a transplant from Auburn, Ca, now in Spokane, WA, and a 25-year Niners fan. While the team is obviously moving in the right direction, I'm curious about the reported $10 million they're under the salary cap. With this kind of money available, why on earth didn't they go out and fortify their linebacking corps after the departure of Julian Peterson (who was probably overpaid by Seattle) and Andre Carter? It seems to me $10 mil would go a long way to help a defense that could use the re-enforcements.

Thanks in advance for your answer,
Rick

Answer: Hi Rick, thanks for the question. The 49ers are indeed more than $10 million below the salary cap, but the team is quick to point out that some of that room was cleared recently when Kevan Barlow and Mike Rumph were sent east.

That is, they didn't know they would have $10 million to spend during the March free agency period. Still, they had enough room at the time to sign another linebacker and to possibly re-sign either Peterson or Carter. Peterson, of course, is the better of the two, and he and rookie Manny Lawson would have made a formidable pair.

The problem this past spring was that he was coming off a subpar season (and hadn't fully recovered from his Achilles tear) and that his agents, the notorious Poston Bros., were asking for the moon. A team like Seattle, which is hoping to make another Super Bowl run, was willing to take the risk and pay that price. The 49ers, who are still in rebuilding mode, were not. It's a shame because Peterson appears to have regained his pre-injury zip this season as shown by his seven-tackle, one-sack performance in Week 1.

Another reason is that the free-agent market, at least in the 49ers' eyes, wasn't very deep at linebacker whereas the draft was. For example, most fans would rate LaVar Arrington as one of the league's top linebackers. Nolan et. al. wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole. They also thought Corey Smith, at the very least, would be a capable back-up rushing from the edge. However, he was a disappointment in training camp and didn't make the team ...
-- Matt Barrows


Question: Is Northwestern an accredited school?

Just kidding. I am impressed.

So why didn't David Bass enter the game following the injury to Allen?
-- Neal Sloper, Eureka, Calif.

Answer: Northwestern is indeed an accredited university, but its football program might be downgraded to 1-AA after the recent loss to New Hampshire. At least UVA won. Against Wyoming. At home. In overtime. Gonna be a long year ... I'll answer the David Baas conundrum with the next question ...
-- Matt Barrows


Question: It's a little troubling that Baas (high 2nd) and Williams (high 3rd) are on the bench, and inactive for the game. Allen goes down, and Baas isn't summoned in for the game? Williams is drafted specifically for the return game, and is inactive? Those are very high, valuable draft picks to essentially waste, especially for a team that is convinced it can draft 95% of its roster and somehow be a Super Bowl contender. I can think of numerous DBs, LBs and DLs that we could have taken in the draft at those picks, and gotten valuable use out of.
-- Lebowski,
Los Angeles, Calif.

Answer: We were scratching our heads in the press box over the same things. The 49ers drafted Williams this year primarily for his punt-return skills. At the time, Nolan said the luxury of not worrying about dropped punts was well worth the third-round price. And to be honest, I can't remember Williams mishandling a punt throughout spring and summer practices.

After the game, Nolan explained that he wanted to activate eight defensive linemen so that the defense would be fresh against the Cardinals' potent offense and, as a result, had to deactivate one of the five receivers. But why not deactivate newcomer Taylor Jacobs, who is still picking up the offense? Don't know the answer to that one, but it's worth monitoring Sunday against the Rams.

Baas is a bigger mystery. As you noted, he was picked 33rd overall, practically making him a first rounder. Baas was Larry Allen's primary back-up through spring and most of summer practices. But when center Jeremy Newberry was placed on injured reserve, Baas began concentrating on center. He wasn't inactive for the game (he does a lot of special teams), but it's clear that he was the third choice behind Tony Wragge and Adam Snyder when Allen went down in the first quarter.

The 49ers say Baas didn't go in because he's needed at center should anything happen to Eric Heitmann. But there are plenty of back-up centers in the league who are also their team's first replacement at guard. It's too early to declare Baas a bust, but he's clearly behind Snyder (a late third rounder) in the eyes of the coaching staff, and if Wragge (undrafted) continues to play well, he could surge ahead of Baas as well.
-- Matt Barrows


September 11, 2006

So why didn't David Baas enter the game when Larry Allen got hurt Sunday against the Cardinals? Why did Mike Nolan elect to kick a field goal on first down? Is it true that Alex Smith's hands are no larger than those of a porcelain doll? The questions you've been dying to ask but never see in the newspaper will be answered ... but first you have to ask. Use the form below to send me your questions and help The Bee kick off its online Q&A on the 49ers!

-- 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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