49ers Blog and Q&A

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

December 29, 2006
Where are they now?

Question: Hey Matt. I love this question-and-answer forum the Bee has, and I am going to take advantage of it now. Do you think you guys could add on a "Where Are They Now?" section. Maybe upon request or you pick the player of the week. We love our Niners and sometimes we wonder "Where Are They Now?" I'll give you a name of a player who helped coach me when he first came to the Bay Area: Bill Ring, who played in the 80's for the NIners and Super Bowl XVI. Thanks Matt.

- Oke Iese, Sacramento

Answer: Gee, I hate to plug one of my competitors, but the Santa Rosa Press Democrat's Matt Maiocco recently wrote a book called "49ers: Where Have You Gone?" According to the book, Bill Ring is a big-wig senior VP at a financial company in San Francisco. (Hey Matt, I want a percentage if book sales suddenly skyrocket.)

- Matt Barrows

December 29, 2006
Let's look at Bennett

Question: Yo Matthew! Have you heard any whispers from inside the organization that they may pursue Berkley native Drew Bennett in free agency? I think he would be the perfect compliment to Bryant and Battle, help alleviate the attention on Gore, and let the Niners focus primarily on D in the draft. Drafting WR's has not been good for the Niners - Woods, Maxwell, Marshall, Hamilton, Williams, etc.

-- Lebowski, Los Angeles

Answer: No whispers yet, Lebowski, but I agree that Bennett would be a good fit. The 49ers love big receivers and at 6-5, Bennett would be well within their wheelhouse (Think of the 49ers as Jacksonville West). Some reasons they may pass on him: 1.) The free-agent market is light on receivers, which would drive up his asking price. 2.) The 49ers will spend their salary-cap dough on defensive players. 3.) The draft will have some good, big-bodied guys in Jarrett, Manningham, C. Johnson, etc.

-- Matt Barrows

December 29, 2006
Clothing optional?

Question: Why don't the Niners stay in the throw-back jerseys permently? I think the Niners should wear the throw-back jerseys permently. Don't you think it could bring back a sense of tradition and honor to our beloved organization? I watch all the sports stations from NFL network to espn. Never is there a mention of the our Niners, unless it's to down us. And with all the Manning brother craziness, Don't you think our QB deserves some recognition? He was the No. 1 pick in 05. Eli was No. 2 pick via trade. right?

-- Ronnie Fuller, Hollister

Answer: The third-most important person in the organization agrees with you, Ronnie, regarding the uniforms. Mike Nolan has said that he'd like to see his team return to the classic duds. The question is whether Nos. 1 and 2, John and Denise York, feel the same way. If they do, it would take about two years to go through all the red tape at the NFL level. I don't know exactly what it involves, but I'll bet Reebok has something to do with it. In other words, don't expect to see the old unis until 2008 at the earliest.

-- Matt Barrows

December 27, 2006
Not a passing fancy

Question: It seems that Alex Smith takes three quarters to get into the flow of a game. Do you think he would be better served by using the pass to set up the run, somehow getting him into the game sooner?

- Jeff Rabinovitz, Sacramento

Answer: Well, that would run counter to the 49ers' offensive philosophy, which, of course, is to tenderize defenses with the run through three quarters. I don't see that changing any time soon.

- Matt Barrows

December 27, 2006
No appealing alternative

Question: Why hasn't Antonio Bryant appealed his suspension?

- Anita, Modesto

Answer: Very intriguing question, Anita. If Bryant had appealed - and he had every opportunity to do so - the appeals process would have taken months, delaying his suspension until next year. Maybe he figured he had no chance at winning and thought he should get it over with now. Some people, however, believe he cut a deal with the league. It's well known that Bryant's November run-in with San Mateo police wasn't his first violation of the league's substance abuse policy. If he had two strikes prior to the November incident, the league could have suspended him for a year. It's possible the league offered him a choice: Either take the four-game suspension now, or appeal it and risk sitting out the entire 2007 season.

- Matt Barrows

December 27, 2006
NOT in defense of tackles

Question: I told anybody who would listen that the 49ers would lose to the Cardinals because the lack of talent at defensive tackle. It is a very bad matchup for us. There is no pressure on quarterbacks from the interior. Opposing quarterbacks have over a 90 rating on us this year. Quarterbacks have all day to throw on us. It is not the defensive back's fault, it is the defensive tackle's. I want Branch or Okam with our first pick. Remember passing on Wilfork for Woods? Picking another position will not have the same impact on next year. What do you think?

- Berger, Reno

Answer: Hi Berger. I like the Dallas Cowboys' circa-1990 approach for rebuilding a football team - take care of your offensive and defensive lines first, and the rest will take care of itself. After concentrating on the offensive line his first two years, Mike Nolan is halfway there. There are really only two players on the team right now - Ronnie Fields and Melvin Oliver - who figure into the 49ers' long-term plans as far as the defensive line, so look for a considerable upgrade in the offseason.

- Matt Barrows

December 22, 2006
Whither coach Singletary?

Question: I was wondering what you think the chances are of Mike Singletary leaving in the offseason for a possible head coaching job? I'm really hoping we get him back, but I know he is a good coach and might get an offer.

- Road Dog, Sacramento

Answer: Good question. My guess is that Singletary won't be getting a head coaching gig in the offseason. It's not that he's a poor candidate, but rather that there won't be many vacancies. The most likely opening is in Arizona, and Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops and Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera are believed to be the top contenders there. If Rivera leaves Chicago, though, will they want to bring in another ex-Bear to run the defense? Hmmmm.

- Matt Barrows

December 22, 2006
The road to the playoffs

Question: I consider myself a 49er Faithful4Life, win or lose. The question I have is this: For the past couple of weeks, the commentators keep saying the Niners still have a chance at the playoffs. What needs to happen for this to become a reality?

- Kevin Ponder, Sacramento

Answer: Tsk, tsk, Kevin - you must not have read Saturday's paper. The easiest path to the playoffs would be to win the division. If the 49ers win their last two games and the Seattle Seahawks lose their last two, both teams would finish 8-8. San Francisco, however, would win the tiebreaker thanks to their season sweep of the Seahawks. They also would win a tiebreaker if the Rams finished 8-8.

Getting a wild-card berth is more difficult, especially since the 49ers would lose tiebreakers with Philadelphia and Green Bay. They lost to those teams earlier this year.

- Matt Barrows

December 19, 2006
Cut the kid some slack

Question: Matt, I see a lot of people harping on Alex Smith. Can you please remind them he is only 22 years old? Most rookies come in to the league at 23 or 24. Can you also remind them that he was in a situation last year where no quarterback in history would've succeeded? Can you also remind them that next year, when he is 23, he will be in in his third year and have already thrown for about 3,500 yards? I feel we are lucky to have him. I guess we'll find out in the next year or two.

- Berger, Reno

Answer: I'm not sure there was a question in there, Berger, but I would echo everything you said. Fans also should remember that Smith took a big leap between his sophomore and junior seasons at Utah. He'll be entering his junior NFL season next year.

- Matt Barrows

December 19, 2006
Rating Mike Nolan

Question: Many of us (present company included) have been down on Mike Nolan at one time or another during the season. All in all, I feel like coach Nolan has done a remarkable job as the Niners head coach. One SacBee reader said that coach Nolan sometimes "plays not to lose" as opposed to "playing to win." I did agree with that assessment during the Rams game. If I had to rate coach Nolan on a scale of 1-10 I'd rate him at an '8' and climbing. I'm curious as to what you would rate him at?

- Rick Redding, Sacramento

Answer: Hi, Rick. I think "8" is a pretty good number as well. In my opinion, one of the best things Nolan has done is surround himself with solid people, with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and personnel director Scot McCloughan chief among them. I also like the way he is building his offense around a strong offensive line. This isn't a sexy approach, but it's a smart one. Other struggling teams - the Lions and Cardinals, for example - have concentrated on skill positions and seem to have the same poor record each season. The good teams are anchored by solid and deep lines, and the 49ers presumably will work on building their defensive line this offseason.

Nolan's shortcoming, in my humble opinion, has been game management. As you mentioned, some play calls have been odd and his use of timeouts has been downright atrocious at times. Maybe he's trying to do too much throughout the course of a game. Sometimes I'll look down from the press box when the offense is one the field and Nolan will be in defensive coordinator mode, explaining some alignment or another to the defensive players on the bench. I would imagine it's hard to do that and be in tune with the rhythm of the game.

- Matt Barrows

December 19, 2006
Practice (squad) makes perfect

Question: Wwith all the changes on the practice squad, do you have
any idea of the current members?

- Forty9ermike, Rocklin

Answer: Sure. The eight-man practice squad consists of wide receivers C.J. Brewer and Marcus Maxwell, linebackers Jared Newberry and Russell Rabe, cornerbacks Harrison Smith and Jerron Wishom, tackle Tavares Washington and running back Zak Keasey. Washington and Keasey have been on the squad virtually all season and are good candidates to play in Germany this spring.

- Matt Barrows

December 17, 2006
Drafting back to the future

Question: As a longtime 49er fan (35 years), I have been waiting for them to build another championship team the way they did in the early 80's, through the draft. I feel they are on the right track with the last two drafts yielding fast, aggressive, good character players. But to get to the next level, I think they need a fast, aggressive middle linebacker (Ray Lewis type), another good cover corner and a playmaking (without the attitude) receiver. I think Derek Smith and Walt Harris have done a good job, but they are getting old. What do you think?

- Kevin, Sacramento

Answer: Hi Kevin. One of the things 49ers fans should feel good about is personnel director Scot McCloughan. He's not only the guy who compiles the team's draft list, he's also in charge of scouting other team's free agents. Seems to me, he's done just as good a job in the free agency market (Walt Harris, Larry Allen, etc.) as he has in the drafting department (Frank Gore, Adam Snyder, etc.)

I think a fast, aggressive linebacker would be a nice addition (Adalius Thomas and Lance Briggs are two possibilities) but the 49ers might concentrate on the defensive line and secondary as well. The team's depth at cornerback was exposed when Shawntae Spencer was nicked for three weeks. Good cornerbacks also would allow safety Keith Lewis to play to his strength, which is crowding the line of scrimmage and taking out ball carriers. That's what he did against Seattle Thursday, the second strong tackling performance in a row for him. As for the defensive line, the team only has a handful of players - Ronnie Fields, Melvin Oliver and Marques Douglas - that figure strongly in their future. Bryant Young is in the final year of his contract, although when you look at how he's been playing of late it's hard to imagine him not coming back for at least one more season.

As for Smith and Harris, they are definitely growing older (who isn't?), but I don't think they need to be replaced. Don't forget, Smith was affected by an eye injury that probably was a lot more debilitating than the stoic linebacker ever let on. That should be taken care of in the offseason. As for Harris, he's having the best season of his career. The Redskins look like fools for letting him walk in the offseason, and if Pro Bowl voters knew what they were doing, they'd send him to Hawaii for the first time in his career.

- Matt Barrows

December 12, 2006
Was Alex Smith a mistake?

Question: Too this day I feel the 49ers should have drafted Braylan Edwards instead of Alex Smith. I think drafting a quarterback with the first pick is setting yourself up for failure. Do you think they blew it?

- Alex, Shingle Springs

Answer: Wow, you guys have about as much patience as George Steinbrenner (pre Joe Torre). Smith isn't even finished with his second season, which, by the way, is light years better than his first season. Steve Young threw 13 picks vs. eight TDs his second year in Tampa Bay. Troy Aikman had 18 picks and 11 TDs in year two. I'm not saying Smith (14 int. vs. 13 TD) is going to be better than those guys in the long run, but he's as good, or better, than they were at similar stages. Maybe the three-game winning streak last month created a false sense of hope among fans and raised expectations prematurely. This team is nowhere near ready for the playoffs and Smith is nowhere near ready to lead them there. But he is about where you'd expect for a second-year quarterback.

- Matt Barrows

December 11, 2006
Will Alex Smith be great?

Question: I don't see Alex Smith lasting as a starting quarter back beyond next season. I am wondering why everyone think that he is going to be a great quarterback? So far he is unable to show qualities great QBs possess.

- JoJo, Fremont

Answer: I'm not sure even the 49ers expect Smith to become a great quarterback. What they're looking for is a 'good' quarterback, someone who will manage a game, who won't throw a lot of interceptions and who will, when he sees an opening, make a big play or two. I hate to sound like a Smith apologist, but the guy's only 22 years old, is already on his second offensive coordinator and has almost an entirely new receiving corps from last year. Is he going to play like John Elway, Dan Marino or Brett Favre? No, his nature is that of a play-it-safe quarterback, and that's precisely why Nolan drafted him.

Nolan was asked whether he would consider replacing Smith with Trent Dilfer. He said "no," because he thought benching Smith at this point in the season would be doing far more bad than good bad as far as Smith's development. Remember, last year Smith threw only one TD, and it came during the very last game of the season against the Houston Texans, the league's worst team. If he progresses as much from Season Two to Season Three as much as he did from his rookie season, he won't have as many doubters.

- Matthew Barrows

December 11, 2006
Well, what can I say?

Question: Why is a guy who claims his favorite player is Darrell Green covering the 49ers? Get a clue please! Once again The Bee confirms to me why I read The Chronicle.

- Armando Esparza, North Highlands

Answer: Why is a guy who claims to subscribe to The Chronicle reading The Bee's Web site?

- Matthew Barrows

December 11, 2006
Does Vernon Davis know his place?

Question: Matt, it seemed like Alex Smith was constantly having to tell Vernon Davis where to line up during the New Orleans game. On at least one occassion, it appeared that Alex decided to call a time out because Davis was still not in the proper place. Have you noticed this problem? Is Davis having a problem with understanding the playbook?

- Ken Adams, Sacramento

A: Yeah, I noticed that the 49ers -- who burn way too many timeouts, by the way -- had to burn one in N.O. because Davis didn't know what was going on. He is very much a rookie -- that is, he shows flashes of brilliance but makes a lot of mistakes. He's easily the most gifted athlete on the team. What he needs to work on in the offseason is honing that ability. That means running better routes, and most importantly, developing better hands. Right now his hands are about as soft as The Thing's from the Fantastic Four.

- 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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