49ers Blog and Q&A

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

April 30, 2008
The draft ... had Tampergate never happened

With the seventh pick in the third round Sunday, the Chicago Bears selected a receiver, Earl Bennett, out of Vanderbilt. The selection is significant because that slot belonged to the 49ers before Commissioner Roger Goodell made San Francisco swap third rounders with the Bears because of the Lance Briggs tampering flap. Bennett was the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions and was believed to be one of the best possession receivers in the draft. Would the 49ers have taken him if they still had their old draft spot?

“No,” said GM Scot McCloughan. “But he’s a good player. He will end up being a good football player.”

You gotta believe McCloughan. The Bears desperately needed a receiver after losing Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad in the offseason. The 49ers, meanwhile, passed on several other Bennett-like receivers throughout the draft. The only ones they really appeared to contemplate were the big, physical receivers like Texas’ Limas Sweed and eventually Virginia Tech’s Josh Morgan, whom they selected in the sixth round.

The 49ers likely would have passed on most of the other players that were selected between their former third-round pick, No. 70 overall, and the one they got from the Bears, No. 75. They never thought that Chris Ellis, taken at pick No. 72, had the necessary athleticism to play outside linebacker. Jamaal Charles went at No. 73 and the 49ers would not have taken a running back. The 49ers never seemed all that interested in linebacker Dan Connor, who went at No. 74.

The one player who might have caught the 49ers’ eye would have been Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden, who was taken by the Ravens at pick No. 71. Gooden began his career at outside linebacker but really excelled when he moved inside. He finished with a career-high 119 tackles last season. Would he have been the 49ers’ new “ted” linebacker? We’ll never know. But given that he’s now wearing a Ravens uniform – wink, wink – there’s a good chance he’ll wind up playing for Mike Nolan at some point in his career. One might also say that a failed attempt to land one inside linebacker, Lance Briggs, cost the 49ers another inside linebacker in Gooden. Is that irony?

In the fifth round, meanwhile, again it was the Bears picking in the slot the 49ers had pre-tamperGate. They took Zackary Bowman, a defensive back out of Nebraska. The players who might have tempted the 49ers had they had a fifth rounder? How about QB Dennis Dixon or G Roy Schuening or LB Jonathan Goff? Or better yet, how about the guy who went third to last in the round, tackle Carl Nicks?! Oh, Carl, we hardly knew ya …

-- Matt Barrows

April 29, 2008
The Ford F-150 of drafts

This weekend the 49ers had what I would describe as a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of draft. It was a solid, blue-collar, very Nolanesque haul. It was the Ford F-150 of drafts. From the moment Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan arrived on the scene in 2005, they said they wanted to build a power-running team with big linemen and big skill players. And by golly, they’re sticking to that theme.

But therein lies the rub. This draft seemed a lot like the one they had in 2005 when they took two interior linemen (they had already earmarked Adam Snyder as a guard) in the first three rounds. This year, they took two interior linemen in the first four rounds and one of them, Chilo Rachal, probably will replace one of the 2005 linemen in the starting lineup. It’s not a bad draft. It just seems like the same old draft. You might call this a Groundhog Day draft.

You don’t want to be a team like the Redskins or the Raiders that only seems to be interested in flashy players. McCloughan’s philosophy is a sound one – build the team from the inside of the offensive and defensive line. But at some point the 49ers have to stop working on the inside and look after the outside. This is a team that finished with just 31 sacks last year and still has no reliable edge pass rushers. This is a team that finished last in the league in passing offense that still has no dominant wideout. This is a team that has one of the fastest tight ends in the league but uses him as if he were a guard.

You can argue that the 49ers addressed those needs in free agency. But Justin Smith never had any more than 8 1/2 sacks in his career. Receiver Isaac Bruce is 35 and Bryant Johnson only has a one-year deal. They are not long-term answers to the 49ers’ 2007 problems.

You can also argue that the 49ers received all the offensive sizzle they needed when they hired Mike Martz who, it’s true, has done an amazing job of turning water into wine in the past. But it seems like the 49ers are putting an awfully large amount of eggs in Martz’s basket. As far as the 49ers’ roster, Martz won’t be charged with turning water into wine. He has to try to turn meat and potatoes into sirloin croquettes and potatoes au gratin. Bon Appetit, coach ...

Other observations from the 49ers’ draft:

· The 49ers’ have a well-documented love of Senior Bowl participants. But only one of their picks, center Cody Wallace, was a Senior Bowl alum. Kentwan Balmer was invited to the SB but did not participate due to a lingering hamstring issue. On the Thursday before the draft, Mike Nolan acknowledged that the talent pool at this year’s SB wasn’t as good as in recent years. What’s also noteworthy is that two out of the six picks were juniors and the 49ers usually are wary of juniors.

· There were 35 SEC selections throughout the draft but none taken by the 49ers. Instead, the 49ers tapped two ACC players (but, alas, none from UVA), two Big 12 players , a Pac 10 player and a Big 10 player.

· The last time the 49ers took a DT in the first round? 1994 when they selected some guy named Bryant Young 7th overall. ***correction*** The 49ers drafted Reggie McGrew in the first in 1999. Maybe I was repressing the memory.

· And finally, it’s time to face the music, pay the piper, step in front of the judge. I didn’t do so well in my mock. Maiocco and I had the same number of players who went in the first round – 25 – but his picks put the players closer to the spot where they were actually taken. I tallied the following by calculating the difference between the player’s predicted draft position and his actual position. For example, Branden Albert went in the No. 15 slot but I had him going No. 9. So I wound up with a six for Albert. Naturally, the lower your score, the better you did. Maiocco got a 145; Barrows a 162.

Now let’s throw in the experts. Mel Kiper Jr. had an impressive 118 in the proximity tally. Ah, but he only predicted 23 of the 31 first rounders. Todd McShay predicted 24 but got a 153 in proximity, which is practically Barrows’ territory. Mike Mayock did the best, but I suspect this was due more to good reporting by co-worker Adam Schefter (who, it should be noted, sucked all the suspense from the draft) than by his skills of prognostication. He finished with a 102 in proximity and had 24 of the 31 first rounders.

-- Matt Barrows

April 28, 2008
Balmer wearing No. 67 ... for now

***Update*** The 49ers also have a verbal agreement with UFA OL Brian de la Puente of Cal.

Just spoke on a conference call with Kentwan Balmer, who seemed like he was on Cloud 9 (49?) after being drafted on Saturday. We were supposed to have had met him at a press conference yeterday but he missed his original flight, then ran into delays in Texas. The first thing he did when he got on the phone was apologize for missing the press conference yesterday.

It was clear from talking to Balmer that he has always had a defensive mentality. When he and his older brothers and cousins would play tag, Balmer wouldn't just tag his playmates. He would tackle them. "And I got a lot of whuppings for it," he recalled with a laugh. He also remembered the time he and a cousin, who was seven years older than him, ran into each other while playing outside. The collision left the older boy with a bump on his head that Balmer described as a "unicorn horn." Balmer said he and that cousin, Shaun Stevenson, were fondly recounting the incident on Saturday when he was drafted.

As far as what position he would play, Balmer said he didn't know yet. He said he currently weighed 311 pounds but wasn't sure whether the 49ers would want him to get heavier to play nose tackle or lighter to play defensive end. He's also not sure which number he will wear. For now, he's been saddled with ugly No. 67. Asked if he would be happy with that as his permanent number, a laughing Balmer said, "No comment. That's the number they wanted me to have. ... As long as I have a 49ers logo on my helmet, I'm content."

Balmer said he was picked up at the airport by defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and has been meeting various 49ers this morning. He even got an autograph from Nate Clements "because I'm still a fan of this game." Balmer also got his first-ever autograph request outside of his San Jose hotel. He said he didn't know how to react, so he scribbled "Go 49ers" instead of his name. "I was a little embarassed," he said.

On Sunday, Mike Nolan compared center Cody Wallace to former 49er Jeremy Newberry. But it will be Chilo Rchal, not Wallace, who wears Newberry's old No. 62.

Chilo Rachal: No. 62
Cody Wallace: No. 65
Reggie Smith: No. 31
Josh Morgan: No. 84
Larry Grant: No. 57


-- Matt Barrows

April 28, 2008
49ers sign Cal WR Jordan, OL De La Puente

The mad scramble to land undrafted free agents has begun, and the 49ers have hauled in a receiver, Cal's Robert Jordan, and a linebacker, the University of Nevada's Ezra Butler, according to agent Jeff Sperbeck. They also have a verbal agreement with Cal OL Brian De La Puente, according to agent Bruce Tollner. NFLDraftbible.com is reporting the team also has snagged DE-LB Louis Holmes of Arizona, TE Joe Jon Finley of Oklahoma and LB Gary Guyton of Georgia Tech. Guyton played for the 49ers at the Senior Bowl. They also are looking for at least two offensive linemen.

Guyton has excellent athleticism and showed such at the combine when, at 245 pounds, he ran a 4.47 40 and jumped 36 1/2 inches in the vertical leap. But his production never really matched his potential at Georgia Tech.

Butler also is a guy who also put up good numbers in the drills. He is intriguing because he can play that edge-rusher position the 49ers did not address in the draft. Last year at Nevada, Butler had 93 tackles (13.5 for losses), 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three interceptions

Jordan, meanwhile, certainly is familiar to all the Cal fans who watched his senior season. He had a great Pro Day in Berkeley and many thought he would be a second-day selection in the draft. Jordan isn't very big -- 5-11, 172 pounds -- but he has been adept at getting off the line of scrimmage and finding soft spots in the defense.

-- Matt Barrows

April 27, 2008
49ers draft, part deux

5:37 p.m. Scot McCloughan just held his end-of-draft press conference. Perhaps the most interesting thing he said was how closely the 49ers' board matched that of the rest of the league. You might think that happens all the time. In fact, McCloughan said, it hardly ever happens. The team that seemed to be mirroring the 49ers the closest was the Kansas City Chiefs. To give you an indication of which other players the 49ers valued, the Chiefs chose the following players:
1st Glenn Dorsey, DT
1st Branden Albert, G
2nd Branden Flowers, CB
3rd Jamaal Charles, RB
3rd DaJuan Morgan, S
3rd Brad Cottam, TE
4th Will Franklin, WR
5th Brandon Carr, CB
6th Barry Richardson, OT
6th Kevin Robinson, WR
7th Brian Johnson, DE
7th Mike Merritt, TE

McCloughan also said the 49ers had plenty of chances to move back in the draft, especially in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds. Each time, however, the player they wanted most was available to them.

As far as Takeo Spikes, McCloughan said the team probably would touch base with Spikes "soon" but that the 49ers wouldn't force the issue.

McCloughan spoke a lot about Kentwan Balmer. I asked him whether Balmer had the right shape to play nose tackle. To me the position calls for a more squat, low-to-the-ground type of player. Balmer, at 6-5, 295 pounds, is more angular. But McCloughan insisted Balmer can play the point. "He's a thick-hipped, thick-legged guy. He's built like a nose. If we want him to be big, he can do it." McCloughan said he was very impressed with Balmer's use of leverage. You could tell he was very excited about the pick.

Oh, one more thing. I asked McCloughan why Carl Nicks (know in the media trailer as "Barrows' guy Carl Nicks") fell. The essense is that Nicks had first-to-second round talent but late fifth-round character issues.

3:19 p.m. Here are some odds and ends from Nolan. Asked about the draft in general, Nolan said he has yet to give it a really detailed analysis. But his gut reaction is that the Chiefs had a very strong draft. Sorry, Raiders fans.

Despite the Larry Grant selection, Nolan said that Takeo Spikes wasn't "out of the picture" but that nothing would be done imminently.

Now that the draft is over, the 49ers will concentrate on signing undrafted free agents. Nolan said the team has 71 players right now and probably will add six or so before the May 2 minicamp. Look for them to add two offensive tackles and two receivers.

Nolan said he didn't know Chris Long would line up in the St. Louis defense. He said Long reminded him of Justin Smith "because they have very good motors."

Kentwan Balmer's first press conference with the team was supposed to be at 3 p.m. Balmer, however, missed his flight when some members of his travel party didn't show up on time. Now the presser is at 7 p.m. Thanks, Kentwan.

3:07 p.m. We have another Sacto guy on the roster! It turns out that Larry Grant grew up in Sactown and played two years at Foothill High School where he lettered as a running back and a safety.
Grant played two seasons at City College of San Francisco where he was the California junior college player of the year in 2005. He then transferred to Ohio State where he played outside linebacker.
The 49ers selected Grant in the seventh round, 214th overall, to compete at inside linebacker with Jeff Ulbrich and Dontarrious Thomas. Mike Nolan said that Brandon Moore, who once was part of the mix at "ted," instead will back up Patrick Willis at "mike" linebacker.
“We talked about (drafting) an inside linebacker at some point,” Nolan said. “Hopefully Larry Grant gives us a player that can compete at the position.”
Grant was born in Santa Rosa but moved to the Sacramento a few years later. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Foothill before moving to Georgia to live with his older brother. He returned to graduate from Foothill.
“There was a certain family situation that wasn’t the best for me,” Grant said on a conference call.

2:06 p.m. According to Ohio State's web site, Grant was the JUCO player of the year in 2005 after finishing with 175 in two years at Community College of San Francisco. Grant is listed as 6-1, 235 pounds. As a Buckeye senior in 2007, he started all 13 games and had 51 tackles (9.5 for losses), five sacks, a forced fumble, an interception and five pass breakups. Perhaps more significantly for his future role with the 49ers, he blocked three kicks at Ohio State last year and had six blocks in 2005 at CCSF.

2:05 p.m. The 49ers round out their draft with LARRY GRANT, OLB from Ohio State.

1:04 p.m. Just spoke with Josh Morgan, who met with the 49ers at the Hula Bowl and who also visited the team earlier this month. Morgan said his arrest at Virginia Tech wasn't a big topic of conversation beyond the scouting combine. "That was the only incident I've ever had in my life," he said. "We were over that issue pretty much at the combine." Morgan talked a little bit about being on campus during the shootings last year. Morgan actually was taking a class in the building next to Norris Hall where the shootings took place. When authorities let the students out of their classrooms, Morgan walked across the street to his apartment where he and his teammates watched the events play out on television. "It was surreal," he said. "You don't expect anything like that to happen." As far as the football field, Morgan said he and Eddie Royal handled kickoff duties but that Royal handled all punt-return duties.

12:32 p.m. Here's a little info on Morgan. He's a big guy -- 6-foot, 215 pounds -- with tons of talent who probably was held back by the Virginia Tech offense. He got into trouble in 2006 in Blacksburg when he allegedly punched out the window of a truck in an attempt to get at the driver. He was pepper-sprayed by police and arrested for disorderly conduct. He was suspended for the Georgia Tech game as a result.

In 14 games (11 starts) as a senior, Morgan had 46 receptions for 552 yards (12.0 average) and five touchdowns. For his career, he also had 26 kickoff returns for 450 yards and 14 punt returns for 148 yards, but yielded a lot of the return duties to Eddie Royal. When Limas Sweed and Early Doucet got hurt at the Senior Bowl, the 49ers attempted -- but weren't successful -- to get Morgan to fly into Mobile as a replacement. He seems to be similar to last year's draft pick, Jason Hill, who also is a big guy who timed well in the 40-yard dash but doesn't play quite as fast on the field. Morgan ran a 4.46 at the combine.

12:28 p.m. The 49ers take WR JOSH MORGAN out of Va. Tech. Finally, Barrows gets one right!

12:06 p.m. Nicks just went to the Saints with the 29th pick in the fifth round. Dagger to my heart ...

11:58 a.m. Howard just went to the Colts ...

11:45 a.m. Ok, who are some guys who could be available to the 49ers in the sixth and seventh? How about Georgia Tech OLB Darrell Robertson or Georgia OLB Marcus Howard? If they're looking for an inside linebacker, how about Vandy's Jonathan Goff? Receiver? What about Virginia Tech's Josh Morgan? And guess which offensive tackle is still on the board -- CARL NICKS!!!

11:02 a.m. The hated Bears just picked in the slot that the 49ers had before tamperGate reared its ugly head. The Bears took Zackary Bowman, a cornerback out of Nebraska. Anyone who saw the Cornhuskers play defense this past season might not think that's a very good pick.

10:11 a.m. Lavelle Hawkins goes to the Titans.

10:08 a.m. As for the Cody Wallace selection, Nolan said the pick didn't have anything to do with Eric Heitmann -- "Eric's our starter," he said -- but he did note that Heitmann could move to guard. Nolan said that Wallace would play center but that his presence gives the line more flexibility. Wallace lost both of his parents when he was young and Nolan said that he and his assistants were impressed with Wallace's demeanor at the Senior Bowl. They were also impressed with how Wallace held up against the North squad defensive line, which included Sedrick Ellis, Trevor Laws and Lawrence Jackson. "We thought he performed well from that standpoint," Nolan said. Nolan said that Wallace was very serious and compared his demeanor to that of former 49ers center Jeremy Newberry. "J was a no-nonsense guy when it came to football," Nolan said. "(Wallace) doesn't back down. He's not as big as J, but he's not small."

10:04 a.m. As far as the Reggie Smith pick, Nolan said he was worried about durability at cornerback. He noted that Walt Harris was getting long in the tooth and that Tarell Bown, Marcus Hudson and Shawntae Spencer were hurt at various times last season. In fact, Brown (knee) will be limited in the team's upcoming minicamp. Nolan said he is expected to be at full strength for training camp. Nolan also said that the 49ers want the cornerback who plays opposite Nate Clements to be physical with his receiver because he has safety help and can afford to be more physical. "In our division, I belive that match-up corners are very important," Nolan said.

9:57 a.m. Mike Nolan just spoke with us about the team's last two picks. Of course, some of us pointed out that the 49ers -- last in offense last season -- have yet to take a playmaker. Nolan, however, noted that team had picked up several in free agency. "I'd rather get the experienced guy right now. That's not to say we're not looking at receivers hard." In fact, the 49ers were contemplating a receiver -- Eddie Royal?? -- in the second round. Nolan said he asked Mike Martz whether he would rather have the receiver than Chilo Rachal, but Martz said he preferred Rachal, according to Nolan. Martz also gave his blessing to Cody Wallace.

9:16 a.m. Ok, here's the poop on Wallace. Again, he's another guy who fits the 49ers' mold. He's a smart and powerful interior lineman who holds the Texas A&M record with a 740-pound squat lift. Wallace is a Senior Bowl alum who worked closely with George Warhop in Mobile. He also is a two-year captain, which likely endeared him to the 49ers. It's notable that the 49ers have spent two picks on the interior of the offensive line, a huge problem last season. It's also notable that the current center, Eric Heitmann, is entering the final season on his contract. Wallace is another guy who was had had little contact with the team since the combine. "This was a little earlier than I expected," Wallace said of his draft slot. "I didn't expect to be called this soon."

9:10 a.m. The 49ers select .... CODY WALLACE ... a 295-pound center out of Texas A&M. You'll have to give me a moment while we talk with Wallace on a conference call..

9:03 a.m. Beau Bell is no longer on the board. The Browns just took him ...

9:02 a.m. Green Bay just took another edge pass rusher -- Jeremy Thompson out of Wake Forest. Thompson has a "meh" Senior Bowl in my opinion. The 49ers soon will be on the clock ....

8:10 a.m. Dang. The Falcons just took my guy, Harry Douglas, with the 84th pick.

7:52 a.m. Just got off a brief conference call with Smith from his home in Edmond, Okla. Here's the funniest part: Smith was sleeping when scout Todd Brunner called to tell him he would be a 49er. "I'm in bed still," he said. "I just rolled out of bed." Like Chilo Rachal, Smith said he had no clue that the 49ers were interested in him. He spoke with the team at the combine but has had no contact since.

7:36 a.m. The 49ers take REGGIE SMITH, a corner (or is he a safety?) from Oklahoma. Smith, a junior, is listed as 6-1, 197 pounds. Smith seems to fit the mold of a 49ers defensive back. He has good size, was durable and productive in college and is a big hitter. But he does not have great timed speed, which is why some people see him as a safety. One bonus is that he's been a productive return man while at Oklahoma.

Here are Smith's stats: In 39 games at Oklahoma, he started 36 times, with 20 of those starts coming at strong safety, 14 at field cornerback and two at boundary cornerback. He recorded 166 tackles (117 solos) with an eight-yard sack and 12.5 stops for losses of 36 yards. He recovered three fumbles, returning two for a total of 69 yards and a touchdown. He deflected 22 passes and intercepted eight others for 156 yards in returns (19.5-yard average) and a score.

7:34 a.m. Panthers take Dan Connor. Don't think the 49ers ever really loved this guy. San Francisco is on the clock.

7:29 a.m. The Ravens take Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden, a guy the 49ers liked. Of course, this means that there's a good chance Gooden winds up in San Francisco at some point.

7:25 a.m. So whom did the Bears select with what used to be the 49ers' pick? Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett, one of several shifty, speedy receivers the 49ers could have used as a slot receiver. Of course, we'll have to wait to see what kind of receiver Bennett becomes, but there appear to be several similar receivers still available, including Doucet and another guy I like, Louisville's Harry Douglas.

7:23 a.m. The Chargers just picked LSU fullback/running back Jacob Hester, a guy Nolan and the 49ers liked at the Senior Bowl.

7:10 a.m. The Rams take John Greco, who was The Sporting News' top-rated guard. That gives the 49ers' division opponent Chris Long, WR Donnie Avery -- who was the first receiver taken -- and Greco.

6:55 a.m. So this is what the 6 a.m. hour looks like ... We're back at the media trailer. Today, however, the crowd inside is a bit more sparse. Right now it's just me, Maiocco and John Crumpacker, who just walked in. It seems the Lions are on the clock. Things to watch for in the next hour or so ... Whom the Bears select at what was originally the 49ers' pick and, of course, whom the 49ers get five picks later. My two top-rated guys are Carl Nicks (surprise!) and Early Doucet.

April 26, 2008
How to grade the 49ers' draft

I have to give the 49ers' first day of the draft a grade. I always cringe at this assignment because -- let's be honest -- no one will know whether it was a boom or a bust for several years. In 2006, the Texans were idiots for passing on Reggie Bush. In 2007, Mario Williams made them look like geniuses.

So what grade will appear in tomorrow's Bee? Well, a B. Day 1 certainly wasn't flashy. But I thought the Balmer pick was a good one for all the reasons the 49ers put forth today. (He was the guy I took in The Sporting News correspondents' mock). Of all their defensive linemen, Balmer at 6-5 and around 300 pounds, seems like the only one who is really a prototypical 3-4 lineman. He seems to have just the right dimensions as a defensive end in the scheme. If he plays left defensive end, it will allow Isaac Sopoaga, who seemingly has the right dimensions to play nose tackle, to slide over to that position.

A defensive lineman like Balmer also acts as a bodyguard of sorts for Patrick Willis, the player whom Mike Nolan today said was "arguably the best defensive player in the league." Will Balmer get a lot of sacks? No, he'd probably be lucky to ever finish a season with more than five sacks. But the thought is that he will occupy enough blockers that the players behind him, whether it be Tully Banta-Cain or Parys Haralson or Manny Lawson, will have an easier path to the quarterback.

The second-round pick likely raised a lot of eyebrows among the 49ers faithful. That's partly because Chilo Rachal isn't a household name (in fact, the first question we asked him was, 'How do you say your name?') and partly because guard was not a big position of need for the 49ers. I have to admit that I was underwhelmed for the same reasons.

But his presence gives the 49ers a bit more wiggle room on the offensive line. I'm sure Adam Snyder doesn't want to hear this, but if either Joe Staley or Jonas Jennings got hurt, Snyder could fill in and Rachal could take over at left guard. And don't foget, the 49ers still have four more picks and there are plenty of tackles -- Carl Nicks, Anthony Collins, Tony Hills -- still available. Other notable names still on the board: Receivers Early Doucet and Andre Caldwell, and linebackers Dan Connor and Tavares Gooden.

So which current 49er is bumming the hardest today? I'm sure Snyder isn't ecstatic, but at least he has a long-term deal in place. The team's other starting guard, David Baas, does not. And he'll be recovering from a torn pec in training camp. Not a good week for No. 64. The team's defensive linemen can't feel too secure either. The 49ers kept A LOT of defensive linemen on the roster last year, more than a 3-4 team usually keeps. Sopoaga, Justin Smith, Ronald Fields and Ray McDonald are safe. But Aubrayo Franklin, Atiyyah Ellison, Melvin Oliver and Joe Cohen probably aren't resting peacefully tonight.

-- Matt Barrows

April 26, 2008
49ers' draft-day blog

5:38 p.m. Just got out of the press conference with Mike Nolan. It seems that the run on offensive tackles in the first round was key to both of their first-day picks. That run allowed Kentwan Balmer to slip to them at pick 29 and the lack of tackles forced them to take the best remaining offensive lineman, Chilo Rachal, 10 picks later. "He was the highest guy (on our board)," Nolan said. "Scot and I both were a little surprised."

Nolan said he thought that Balmer would play either nose tackle or left defensive end. Right now, Isaac Sopoaga is penciled in as the starter at left defensive end and Nolan said he'd like Sopoaga to stick to one spot this season. Reading between the lines, it seems like the 49ers would love for Balmer to come in and displace Aubrayo Franklin on the nose. What impressed the 49ers most about Balmer was is athleticism and tenacity, Nolan said. Asked about Balmer not living up to his potential until his senior season, Nolan responded, "Honestly, I'm surprised by the question. Because he is a high-motor, play-every-snap (player)."

As for Rachal, Nolan said that McCloughan decribed him as a "poor man's Larry Allen," which I'm sure Rachal would find a nice compliment considering that Allen is his favorite NFL player. Nolan said he'd heard some talk of Rachal possibly playing right tackle, but the 49ers see him as a guard.

Nolan said the team never really considered a wide receiver in the first round. In fact, he said DeSean Jackson's second-round selection was about where the 49ers envisioned him. Nolan didn't come out and say it, but it seems like Balmer, Phillip Merling and linebacker Curtis Lofton were the three guys the 49ers were considering with the No. 29 pick.

4:29 p.m. I'm starting to see why the 49ers tapped Rachal at pick no. 39. We just got off a conference call with him and he seemed like a very vivacious and likeable guy. Rachal said he very much wanted to return to USC for his senior season but decided to enter the draft as a junior because of his mother, who is dealing with a tumor in her stomach and who has no medical insurance. Rachal has not had an easy upbringing. He lost two step brothers, ages 18 and 23, to street violence when he was a child.

Rachal was walking down the sgtreet near his mother's home in Compton when we spoke with him. The 315 pounder said he thought he might be selected in the second round but thought it probably would be toward the end of the second. He said he had 22 interviews with NFL teams, but not one of them were the 49ers.

4:05 p.m. The pick is in. The 49ers select a guard from USC, Chilo Rachal, a 6-5, 306 pounder. I imagine that Rachal will see a lot of time at right guard in the team's upcoming minicamp given David Baas' injury. But my initial thought is that the move is a bit puzzling considering the team's need at offensive tackle. Does this mean Adam Snyder is the top back-up at tackle?

4 p.m. The 49ers are back on the clock after the Seahawks take John Carlson, the TE out of Notre Dame. Groves? Offensive tackle? Or maybe a receiver?

3:54 p.m. Just got off a conference call with Balmer, who had been watching the draft from the Tar Heels football stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. To say that Balmer was excited to be a 49er would be an understatement. He said his father, Charles, was a huge 49ers fan beginning in the early 1990s. In fact, while we were talking with him, he said that his dad was wearing a 49ers cap and weeping tears of joy.

Quizzed on the 49ers' defense, Balmer said he knew they had a good outside linebacker in Manny Lawson, whom Balmer knew from Lawson's days at N.C. State, and a great young middle linebacker in Patrick Willis. He said he also knew that Bryant Young had announced his retirement.
Asked what it would be like to step into the position, left defensive end, that Young plaayed last season, Balmer said, "That's a Hall-of-fame player. I'm not expecting to come in and replace him. It's going to be a lot of work."

Balmer is the third UNC guy taken by the 49ers in the first round. Harris Barton and Ken Willard, a fullback who was with the 49ers from 1965-73.

3:19 p.m. Goodell is approaching the podium. The pick is ... Kentwan Balmer, the defensive tackle from North Carolina. I figure the 49ers will plug him in at left defensive end but we won't know for sure until we talk with Mike Nolan after their second-round pick. Balmer is the guy I picked in The Sporting News Draft.

3:16 p.m. The Seahawks, after a trade with the Cowboys, take Lawrence Jackson, the fourth Trojan taken. The long wait is over (hopefully) ... The Niners are on the clock.

3:09 p.m. Schefter saying the Chargers take cornerback Antoine Cason. Schefter is never wrong.

3:05 p.m. After trading with the Ravens, the Texans select Duane Brown, the offensive tackle from Virginia Tech. The deep pool of offensive tackles suddenly is drying up.

3:03 p.m. With a number of potential first-round fits still on the board, what are the chances the 49ers trade down? Pretty good, IMO.

3 p.m. The Seahawks, who I thought would take Merling, instead trade with the Cowboys, who take Mike Jenkins, the cornerback from South Florida. Groves, Balmer and Merling are still on the board.

2:51 p.m. The Titans select Chris Johnson, the speedy running back from East Carolina. Groves, Balmer and Merling still on the board.

2:44 p.m. It's Mendenhall. That means Groves, Kentwan Balmer and Phillip Merling all are available for the 49ers.

2:41 p.m. The Steelers are next. Could this be Mendenhall? Or will it be Quentin Groves?

2:38 p.m. The Cowboys select running back Felix Jones, the other running back from Arkansas. I had the Cowboys taking Rashard Mendenhall. Damn.

2:27 p.m. The Redskins trade with the Falcons, who select Sam Baker, the USC tackle. Looks like the Falcons really wanted to protect Matt Ryan. The only o-lineman I can see the 49ers taking now is Duane Brown.

2:20 p.m. The Buccaneers select Aqib Talib, the cornerback from Kansas. I wonder if the Redskins will take Devin Thomas next ....

2:09 p.m. The Eagles trade with Carolina, who take Jeff Otah. I nailed this pick ... except I thought the Panthers would take Otah at No. 13. Looks like the 49ers won't get an o-lineman in the first round unless they are in love with Duane Brown.

2:04 p.m. The Ravens missed out on Matt Ryan earlier. So now they trade with Houston to get Delaware QB Joe Flacco at pick No. 18. Suddenly, the 49ers chances of trading back get a little slimmer.

2 p.m. Were two hours in and have had 17 picks. That's not a bad pace ....

1:57 p.m. Wow. the Lions went with OT Gosder Cherilus, whom most observers would be picked after Jeff Otah. Otah seems like the last hope as far as the 49ers picking an offensive linemen in the first round.

1:53 p.m. The Cardinals select the one-kidneyed cornerback, Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. Barrows begins his comeback ...

1:43 p.m. Detroit trades with Kansas City, who picks Branden Albert. I had him going ninth. The Chiefs address two big needs already but I wonder if they have enough ammo now to trade up and grab a quarterback.

1:37 p.m. The hated Bears pick 14th, and they select Chris Williams. The good news is that nailed this pick. The bad news is that so did Maiocco.

1:27 p.m. Panthers pick Jonathan Stewart. Maiocco gets two in a row. Barrows seethes.

1:25 p.m. Broncos go with Clady. The good news is that I nailed this pick. The bad news is that so did Maiocco.

1:19 p.m. Bills go with cornerback Leodis McKelvin.

1:13 p.m. Patriots select Jerod Mayo, a guy that many people said the 49ers would snatch up at pick No. 29. I had him going at pick No. 31. Ooops. This guy really can give a defensive clinic ... a Mayo clinic, if you will. ... Hello ... Hello ... is this thing on? ... crickets chirping .... Hello?

1:08 p.m. Bengals select Keith Rivers. Will Patriots tap Branden Albert or Leodis McKelvin or DRC?

1 p.m. Jags barter with Ravens and pick Derrick Harvey who played just down the road. ... More than an hour in and we've had eight picks. Lord, i don't ask for much ... The Jags get a pass-rushing defensive end, making it more likely that Quention Groves will be available to the 49ers.

12:52 p.m. Saints take Sedrick Ellis with what would have been the 49ers' pick. Ellis was the very best player at the Senior Bowl this year, and don't think the 49ers didn't notice. This helps Barrows' mock ever so slightly since I had Ellis going to the Chiefs at No. 5.

12:50 p.m. Patriots trade with Saints. Sedrick Ellis?

12:48 p.m. Maiocco is kicking my arse. I need to make up some ground in the last half of the first round. Lord, I don't ask you for much ....

12:44 p.m. The Jets pick Vernon Gholston and the notoriously cranky Jets fans are .... happy?

12:35 p.m. Chiefs take Glenn Dorsey, who will be responsible for stopping Darren McFadden twice a year. I predict Dorsey will hear some version of the question, "Any extra motivation facing the Raiders?" at least 200 times this year.

12:28 p.m. Al goes with Run DMc. For lots of comment, tap into Jason Jones' blog.

12:23 p.m. Ok, so now Atlanta has their QB of the future. But the Jets, Chiefs, Ravens and Dolphins are still in need of one. I expect one of these teams to trade back into the first round to get either Joe Flacco or Chad Henne. The 49ers have pick No. 29 but you have to wonder whether that's good enough to spark a trade.

12:18 p.m. Matt Ryan to the Falcons. This sets up a very intersting situation with the fourth pick. The Raiders want to trade down. The Saints want to trade up. Will they strike a deal or will Al want to go with Darren McFadden? Am contemplating erasing my mock and blaming it on a computer virus.

12:11 p.m. Chris Long to the Rams. I wonder whether Joe Staley is watching this. Long played a lot on the left side in UVA's 3-4 sceheme, but I assume he'll play right defensive end in St. Louis. That means that Staley will be squaring off against Howie's boy twice a year for, oh, the next decade. I'm already batting .500 in my mock.

11:45 a.m. Mike Nolan and his 49ers' assistants will be holding a coaching clinic on May 9 (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and May 10 (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.). The sessions are designed for high school and college coaches. In addition to coaching advice, participants get two tickets to a preseason game, a 49ers t-shirt and a gift bag. Cost is $49. Location is 49ers headquarters, 4949 Centennial Blvd., Santa Clara.

11:40 a.m. It's now t-minus 20 minutes (or so) until the Rams go on the clock. Check back here for my snarky comments and astute observations. I'll also be lamenting my mock draft (composed yesterday), which already seems to be falling apart at the seams. Still sticking with my Quentin Groves-or-trade-down prediction for the Niners ....

April 25, 2008
With the 29th pick ...

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for … Barrows’ first-round mock. I’m doing this for two reasons. One, to keep myself entertained during the first 270 minutes when the 49ers aren’t on the clock. The second is that I want to beat Maiocco, who, it should be noted, is waiting an extra day to try to get a leg up. My motto: When it comes to mock drafts, it’s important to be right. But it’s more important to beat Maiocco. (If Maiocco wins, this gets erased and it’s like it never happened).

1. Miami. Jake Long. I’m one for one, baby!
2. St. Louis. Glenn Dorsey. They like Chris Long; they love Dorsey.
3. Atlanta. Chris Long. When you need character players, you go to UVA. Go Hoos!
4. Oakland. Vernon Gholston. Can Al resist Darren McFadden?
5. Kansas City. Sedrick Ellis. They really wanted Gholston. Damn you, Al Davis!
6. Jets. Darren McFadden. They’ll go nuts in Times Square.
7. Patriots. Leodis McKelvin. They lost Asante Samuel and Randall Gay in the offseason.
8. Ravens. Matt Ryan. It creates a mad scramble for the No. 2-rated QB.
9. Bengals. Branden Albert. When you need character players, you go to UVA. Go Hoos!
10. Saints. Keith Rivers. The versatile Rivers rounds out their linebacking corps.
11. Bills. Devin Thomas. The Bills need someone opposite Lee Evans. I think.
12. Broncos. Ryan Clady. Now he won’t have to alter the “Broncos rule!” tattoo on his back.
13. Panthers. Jeff Otah. If the Panthers want to be more physical, Otah is their guy.
14. Bears. Chris Williams. The best left tackle remaining goes to Chicago.
15. Detroit. Derrick Harvey. The Lions pinch themselves when they find Harvey available.
16. Cardinals. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC helps a pass defense that was BAD.
17. Chiefs. Phillip Merling. Kansas City needs to replace Jared Allen’s pass rush.
18. Texans. Mike Jenkins. Another poor pass defense gets help
19. Eagles. Aqib Talib. This is a total shot in the dark. I have no freakin’ clue.
20. Buccaneers. Malcolm Kelly. Tampa Bay desperately needs offensive playmakers.
21. Redskins. Kentwan Balmer. The Skins’ d-line is getting long in the tooth.
22. Cowboys. Rashard Mendenhall. Finally, another running back gets selected.
23. Steelers. Jonathan Stewart. A latter day Jerome Bettis?
24. Titans. Limas Sweed. You know Vince Young will be happy.
25. Seattle. Lawrence Jackson. Seattle loves to platoon its defensive ends.
26. Jacksonville. Kenny Phillips. The sexy pick for the Super Bowl needs a safety.
27. Chargers. Gosder Cherilus. Another Super Bowl contender adds a right tackle.
28. Cowboys. Brandon Flowers. Cowboys desperately need cornerbacks.
29. 49ers. Quentin Groves. I’m sticking to my guns on this one ... unless they trade down.
30. Packers. Antoine Cason. You can never have too many cornerbacks.
31. Giants. Jerod Mayo. Super Bowl champs snag fast-rising linebacker.

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More evidence the 49ers have become the Rodney Dangerfields of the league: While watching NFL Network yesterday, I noticed the scroll at the bottom said “David Bass” has torn a pectoral muscle. At the same time, the anchor was talking about the team’s Thursday presser and referred to the GM as Scot McLaughlin. …. “I tell ya, I was so ugly... When I was born, the doctor slapped my mother!"

-- Matt Barrows

April 24, 2008
Baas goes down; need for o-linemen goes up

The 49ers’ already bare-bones offensive line grew a little thinner last week when starting right guard David Baas tore his right pectoral muscle while lifting weights. Baas will undergo surgery and is expected to miss a good chunk of training camp. Tony Wragge will fill in at right guard during the upcoming minicamp, which begins May 2. The team, however, insists that Baas will be ready for the regular season.

During their pre-draft luncheon today, both Scot McCloughan and Mike Nolan were asked how Baas’ injury will affect their draft. It won’t, they said, but you have to believe that the offensive line is paramount on their draft to-do list. The 49ers currently have nine offensive linemen under contract, but they would like to have 15 heading into training camp. That means that in addition to drafting an offensive lineman – or two – this weekend, the 49ers likely will be burning up the phone lines trying to sign undrafted free-agents on Sunday evening. McCloughan said there were "four or five" offensive linemen worthy of a first-round selection.

Other juicy tidbits from the luncheon.

* McCloughan already has been fielding phone calls about possible trades. In fact, he had to bolt from the luncheon to take four or so more calls. That's partly because teams now have only 10 minutes to make a pick and want to get the calls they might have made on draft day in previous years out of the way. "I've gotten more calls this year than ever," McCloughan said. But it's also because the 49ers are in a nice spot to make a trade. As I wrote earlier in the day, several teams likely will try to trade into the latter half of the first round to snag a quarterback. McCloughan said if the deal makes sense, the 49ers will move back. He said he didn't think they'd move up.

* All you DeSean Jackson backers might be disappointed. It doesn't seem like either McCloughan or Nolan are high on this year's crop of wideouts. In fact, Nolan called wide receiver the biggest first-round miss. (Biggest make = offensive tackle, he said). Of course, this all could be a big smoke screen. But I don't think so.

* Interestingly, McCloughan said he thought inside linebacker was a bigger need than outside linebacker. He said the 49ers would have no qualms about taking an inside linebacker early in the draft two seasons in a row. All you Jerod Mayo and Dan Connor fans, take note ...

* Asked about Quentin Groves, McCloughan called him a "unique guy." "Size, speed -- he's been very productive in the SEC for 3 1/2 years." In case you haven't noticed, the 49ers love SEC players. McCloughan notes that 38 percent of NFL players hail from the southeast. Of course, that reasoning holds true for Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo as well.

* Asked about Jonas Jennings, Nolan said he had spoken with Jennings and that the right tackle had said he would be in Santa Clara for the May 2 minicamp and will stick around the week after. Nolan said Jennings is rehabilitating his ankle in Atlanta and received Nolan's blessing before doing so. He also said the meeting in which he notified Jennings that he would be moved to right tackle went well. "I was pleased," Nolan said. "He was more reasonable than I thought. He said -- I don't know if he was lying -- he said he anticipated this. ... He realizes he has durability issues."

Some etc. items ...

* McCloughan said the team has 19 players (not including Jake Long) ranked as first rounders. Last year they had 17.

* The draft will determine where Takeo Spikes end up. If the 49ers pick up an inside linebacker, they'll likely stop pursuing Spikes. Of course, Spikes will keep a close eye on which teams draft middle linebackers, too. He'd like to be a starter.

* McCloughan didn't rule out drafting a quarterback but it didn't sound like the 49ers were pursuing one, either. The positions that the 49ers will avoid are RB and TE. The draft is deepest in OTs, RBs, TEs (in the mid rounds) and CBs.

* The team hasn't heard anything about Larry Allen's retirement plans, or for that matter, Bryant Young's. Both players are expected to hang it up but neither have filed the necessary paperwork with the NFL.

-- Matt Barrows

April 24, 2008
Trader Scot? 49ers' phone will be ringing

After scanning the headlines this morning, I’m more convinced than ever that the 49ers will try to trade out of the first round in order to accumulate more draft picks. Not only are there multiple trade partners, but multiple scenarios. The odds are looking good for some wheeling and dealing. So who will dance with San Francisco?

Miami. The Dolphins have big question marks at quarterback and may want to leapfrog the Packers at pick No. 30. After passing on Chris Long at Pick No. 1, they reportedly are interested in another pass rusher, Quentin Groves. The 49ers also are looking at Groves and might be able to squeeze the Dolphins for extra compensation. Miami has two second-round picks, Nos. 32 and 57, and the first pick in the third and fourth rounds.

Atlanta. Lets say the Falcons choose Glenn Dorsey or Chris Long at pick No. 3. They, too, could be looking for the second-best quarterback in the draft and would want to beat out Miami, Green Bay and the rest of the pack for that opportunity. Suddenly you have a bidding war, and suddenly that No. 29 position grows more valuable. The Falcons have a mess of picks to play around with, including three second rounders (Nos. 34, 37 and 48) and two thirds (Nos. 68 and 98 (compensatory)).

Baltimore. A lot of observers see Matt Ryan going to the Ravens. If another team snags Ryan, however, Baltimore will strongly consider whomever they think is second best. The Ravens have two fourth-round picks, nos. 106 and 133, which is a compensatory.

Kansas City. Another team in need of a quarterback. The Jared Allen deal left the Chiefs loaded with draft picks. They have three third rounders (Nos. 66, 73 and 82) and two fifths (136 and 140).

New York Jets. Could stand to draft a quarterback, too. They have two fourths (Nos. 102 and 113).

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What is the No. 29 pick worth? Click here for what teams use as a guideline. Yes, I know there’s a “new” chart, but it’s not radically different from this one.

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Scot McCloughan and Mike Nolan will be holding their annual draft luncheon today at noon. I expect to hear the phrase "best player available" at least 20 times. Check back later this afternoon for a report on what they had to say.

******
So how old is Carl Nicks, the Nebraska offensive lineman who started turning heads at the Senior Bowl? There's been plenty of confusion.

"We've had a number of calls from the teams," said Nicks' agent, Jeff Nalley. "We got a call from the Falcons this morning."

The confusion began at the scouting combine in February when the information packet the NFL handed out about Nicks listed his date of birth as March 5, 1983. Apparently, the league took that date from the Nebraska football web site site.

There's just one problem. Nicks isn't 25. He's 22. His actual date of birth is May 14, 1985. Nalley said he sent a copy of Nicks' birth certificate to all 32 teams this week in an effort to clarify the issue. The 340-pound offensive linemen is expected to be drafted somewhere between the second and fourth rounds.

-- Matt Barrows

April 23, 2008
Draft day: The 49ers' magnificent seven, er, six

Any fan with a cursory knowledge of college football can take a stab at whom the 49ers will select in the first round of this weekend’s draft. But it takes true clairvoyance, courage and, yes, a willingness to look really stupid by the time Sunday evening rolls around to predict all six of the 49ers’ picks.

But before I take on this task, a bit of prefacing: I don’t think the 49ers will wind up with the six picks they currently have. That is, I believe there will be some wheeling and dealing over the weekend, quite possibly in the first round. Should teams like Miami or Atlanta or even the New York Jets pass on Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan at the top of the first round, they may try to snag what they consider to be the second-best quarterback (Flacco? Brohm?) at the end of the first. To do so, they might try to get ahead of the quarterback-needy Green Bay Packers who have pick No. 30. And to do that, they would have to do business with the 49ers, who would be willing to take their phone calls ….

But if the 49ers stand pat, here is what they will end up with. (Margin of error +/- 100 percent)

quentingroves.jpg brandon flowers.jpg Carlnicks.jpg

1st, 29th overall. Quentin Groves, linebacker, Auburn. In the pass-happy NFC West, the 49ers need someone who can put pressure on Matt Hasselback, Matt Leinart and Marc Bulger. One question the 49ers have to ask is whether Groves is a one-trick pony who can rush the passer but do little else befitting a linebacker. Look for the 49ers to try to trade down a few slots and get Groves a little later.

2nd, 39th overall. Brandon Flowers, cornerback, Virginia Tech. The elite offensive tackles are off the board and it’s too early to snag the next-best one. So the 49ers take the best cornerback still available. Flowers is in the Nate Clements mold, a decent cover guy who loves to come to the line of scrimmage and lower his helmet.

3rd, 75th overall. Carl Nicks, offensive tackle, Nebraska. Character concerns scare off other teams but not the 49ers, who grab one of the better offensive tackles at January’s Senior Bowl. Nicks is raw but has quick feet for a guy who tips the scales at more than 340 pounds. If he drops down to 325, he’ll be even quicker. Early on, he could play the role that Adam Snyder filled so well in recent years – someone who can fill in at both guard and tackle. BTW, Nicks is 22 years old, not 25 like some draft sites list him.

harry.jpg dotson.jpg moffitt.jpg

4th, 107th overall. Harry Douglas, receiver, Louisville. The 49ers pass on the big-name wideouts at the top of the draft but end up selecting one of the most productive receivers in the country. Sure, Douglas is slight of frame. But he gets off the line of scrimmage quickly and is unafraid to go over the middle. The perfect guy for Mike Martz, who, it should be noted, coached Douglas at the Senior Bowl.

5th, 142nd overall. Peyton Hillis, running back, Arkansas. ***Selection forefeited in tamperGate****

6th, 174th overall. Lionel Dotson, defensive tackle, Arizona. The 49ers love to take defensive linemen on the second day (Ronald Fields, Melvin Oliver, Joe Cohen) who have the potential to develop into decent back-ups. Dotson fits that mold to a t.

7th, 214th overall. Ben Moffitt, linebacker, South Florida. The overachiever type that the 49ers love at Ted linebacker. What Moffitt lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in hustle and savvy. At the very least, he’d be an excellent special teams guy.

-- Matt Barrows

April 22, 2008
Carl Nicks update: Crossing his fingers in the second round

Carl Nicks has been like a 340-pound yo-yo in the run-up to the draft. Back in January, the Nebraska offensive tackle’s stock began to rise with a strong Senior Bowl, then bounced even higher in February with a solid performance in the scouting combine. The next month, however, he was arrested at a party in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Nicks’ stock started going in the opposite direction. At one point, it looked like Nicks could be taken as high as the end of the first round. Now he believes that he could go anywhere from the middle of the second round to the fourth round. I just spoke to Nicks, who is home in Salinas, about his roller-coaster offseason.

As far as his March arrest, Nicks said it happened like this: He flew to Nebraska a week before the team’s pro day and that Friday night attended a party at a friend’s house. He knew he would be drinking at the party and asked his friend if he could stay the night. The party grew so raucous that the police were called. When they arrived, Nicks was downstairs in the theater room and he and several other partygoers – including four football players -- were ticketed for being in a disorderly house. The police asked everyone who wasn’t a resident to disperse, but Nicks couldn’t drive. He eventually called a cab but the police arrested him for failing to disperse a disorderly house. He was taken to jail. He said the episode never grew violent or contentious. In fact, Nicks eventually got the charges dismissed and that his agent sent packets to all 32 teams documenting what occurred. “Initially it was frustrating because my stock has dropped because of it,” Nicks said. “But I can’t do anything about that now.”

The episode, however, snowballed when new Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini barred Nicks from the team’s pro day. Nicks said that other Nebraska football players who were at the same party were able to take part because they were only ticketed whereas Nicks was arrested. He said he never got a chance to argue his case in front of Pelini. “I don’t hate him for that,” Nicks said. “He’s the new coach at a big program. He has to set a standard.”

What also hurt is that Nicks never got to participate in any pro day. He said he wanted to take part in San Jose State’s event but that Salinas, where he played high school football, was more than 45 miles away. He couldn’t take part in the 49ers’ local pro day because Salinas is more than 50 miles from Santa Clara.

The only teams he has visited are Buffalo and Cincinnati. It should be noted that Buffalo will pick ahead of the 49ers in the third round thanks to the tampering case which saddled San Francisco with the 75th overall pick instead of their original 70th.

-- Matt Barrows

April 21, 2008
A mock that rocks ... sort of

As I stated yesterday, I don't put much stock in mock drafts because they're usually compiled by a lonely man in his mother's basement who is using the mock drafts of other lonely men as his research material. Today, however, I took part in one I consider worthwhile because it involved beatwriters from the various NFL cities. After all, who knows more than the writer who spends every waking hour covering the team?

Well, it's actually a legitimate question. You'll notice that USC LB Keith Rivers wasn't picked even though he's considered a Top 10 talent. Rivers fell out of the Top 10 in this draft and continued to fall so far that the mock organizers thought that was unrealistic and decided to remove him from the draft altogether. So, um, sorry, Keith. Better luck next year.

The other interesting bit involves quarterbacks. You'll notice that the Dolphins, Falcons and Jets - teams in need of a future passer - all passed on Matt Ryan. Then the Packers at pick No. 30 selected Joe Flacco because there is precious little depth in Green Bay behind Aaron Rodgers. If that's indeed what the Packers are thinking, then you might expect the Dolphins, Falcons et al. to try to get ahead of Green Bay in order to grab whomever they consider the second-best QB. The team in front of Green Bay? Your San Francisco 49ers ....

1. Dolphins. Jake Long, OT, Michigan. Will allow Vernon Carey to move to right tackle.

2. Rams. Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU. They'd also love Jake Long if the Dolphins don't tap him.

3. Falcons. Chris Long, DE, UVA. The Falcons don't like BC quarterback Matt Ryan.

4. Raiders. Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State. They would use Darren McFadden as bait for trading down.

5 Chiefs. Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC. Their biggest needs are along the o-line and they also love Branden Albert.

6. Jets. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas. New York needs a home-run hitter on offense.

7. Patriots. Branden Albert, G, UVA. This is where the draft got screwy. Most expect them to take Leodis McKelvin or Keith Rivers.

8. Ravens. Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College. They like McKelvin here, but can't pass on a franchise quarterback.

9. Bengals. Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt. They are really hoping Sedrick Ellis falls to them, but they go with an OT instead.

10. Saints. Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy. It's close, but Mike Triplett takes the CB over Rivers. Thanks for ruining the draft, Mike.

11. Bills. Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State. It might seem like a stretch, but the Bills have a history of bucking conventional thinking in the first round.

12. Broncos. Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State. They also would be interested in an every-down running back.

13. Panthers. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon. The Panthers want a more physical rushing attack in 08.

14. Bears. Chris Williams, LT, Vanderbilt. For the first time in the Lovie Smith era the Bears have to replace starters.

15. Lions. Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida. The Lions need a pass rusher. Bad.

16. Cardinals. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennesee State. Some concern about how DRC's one remaining kidney will hold up in the desert heat.

17. Vikings. Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson. The Vikings have been looking for a pass rusher all offseason and might even trade/lose the pick to get KC's Jared Allen. **If KC wins up with this pick, they would go with OT Gosder Cherilus**.

18. Texans. Mike Jenkins, CB, South Fla. The Texans also need an OT and another DE opposite Mario Williams.

19. Eagles. Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas. Might also look to a running back considering that Brian Westbrook touched the ball almost 700 times in last two years.

20. Buccaneers. DeSean Jackson, WR, Cal. The Bucs badly need someone who can stretch the field.

21. Redskins. Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma. A wide receiver would be a gift to Jim Zorn.

22. Cowboys. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois. Watch for the team to make a draft-day trade for one of three receivers: Anquan Boldin, Roy Williams or Chad Johnson.

23. Steelers. Kentwan Balmer, DL, North Carolina. The Steelers are thin at linebacker and also could tap Quentin Groves.

24. Titans. Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas. Tennessee is another team that badly needs offensive excitement.

25. Seahawks. Lawrence Jackson, DE, USC. The Seahawks love to rotate their D-ends. Seattle then would tap a TE in Round 2.

26. Jacksonville. DeJaun Morgan, S, N.C. State. Disagreement among Jaguar scouts as to whether Kenny Phillips is the better safety.

27. Chargers. Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College. The 49ers weep when they see Cherilus come this close.

28. Cowboys. Brandon Flowers, CB, Va. Tech. Arizona's Antoine Cason also is a possibility here.

29. 49ers. Quentin Groves, LB, Auburn. How can a 3-4 team function without pass-rushing linebackers?

30. Packers. Joe Flacco, QB, Delaware. Aaron Rodgers already has been hurt twice - and he wasn't even the starter.

31. Giants. Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee. A good defense gets a little better.

-- Matt Barrows

April 20, 2008
Stars come out for Eddie D

Just returned from a reception for Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., and I have to say my pupils are still dilated. Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Merton Hanks, Joe Montana – the stars were out in full force to toast their beloved Eddie D. at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco on the eve of his induction into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony is Monday night in San Francisco.

I don’t have to explain to 49ers fans how fond people around these parts are of DeBartolo. Each of his former players went on and on about how generous he was when he owned the 49ers, how he would comfort employees during family tragedies, the special perks he would give his players, how well his competitive fire meshed with that of an NFL locker room. And it’s a testimony to their love of him that they would assemble for his big day. The event – billed as a cocktail reception – also drew former Mayor Willie Brown, one-time coach Steve Mariucci and various Bay Area luminaries.

The player who spoke the most passionately was Lott. DeBartolo is not a large man. I’d peg him at 5-6 or 5-7. But Lott said his competitive nature was so apparent and his passion so fierce that his players related to him. To hear Lott describe it, it was as if DeBartolo was their father figure, and the players hated to let him down. Lott remembers that after a loss, DeBartolo would walk up to players, including him, and demand better. “You don’t find very many people who will challenge you in your toughest moment. … He challenged you to get the most out of yourself.” Lott was asked what separated DeBartolo from other owners. His answer: “Incredible passion that starts at the top and that permeates the organization.”

All of the players also noted that getting into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame was a wonderful honor but that DeBartolo deserved to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (He’ll actually be there this August when he gives the introduction for Fred Dean). The players all pointed out that in the last quarter century, DeBartolo was to the NFL what the Rooney family in Pittsburgh was a generation earlier. They also noted that the paragon of the league these days, the New England Patriots and the Kraft family, modeled their ownership on DeBartolo and the 49ers. Quipped Rice: “But they’ve got issues going on right now. And we didn’t have issues.”

Asked about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, DeBartolo was modest, saying he 'd love to get in but didn’t know if he would. He also spoke a lot about Bill Walsh, recalling the meeting in the Fairmont Hotel in 1979 that led to Walsh’s hiring. “None of this happens – I wouldn’t be here now – none of this happens if Bill Walsh doesn’t get hired,” he said. Mostly, DeBartolo spoke about the great memories he had in San Francisco. “I was born in Youngstown, Ohio,” he said, “but really and truly, I was born 31 years ago.” The DeBartolos, of course, bought the 49ers in 1977.

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DeBartolo is still involved in the NFL. Last year he began a sports representation business, and on Saturday a number of DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment clients will be taken in the NFL draft. The two that have the best chance to go in the first round are Cal receiver DeSean Jackson and BC tackle Gosder Cherilus. It’s no coincidence that Rice has been mentoring Jackson. He did the same last year for former USC receiver Steve Smith. Several former 49ers who played for DeBartolo have similar roles with the agency. For the record, DeBartolo also represents San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson and a number of Virginia Tech products, including receiver Eddie Royal.

-- Matt Barrows

April 20, 2008
Q&A: This mock is a crock

Question: Hey Matt, don't you think these mock drafts that come out every week are getting a little ridiculous? I think they just change them every week just so they'll have something new to put out. I mean, Rivals.com, which I thought was a reputable website, has the 49ers taking QB Brian Brohm in the first round and RB Felix Jones early in the 2nd. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't the Niners already have 3 quarterbacks and Frank Gore and recently signed DeShaun Foster at RB? How much stock do you put in any of these mocks?
Nick, San Francisco

Answer: The Internet is full of two things: porn and mock drafts and I find only one of them interesting. Yes, I saw that Rivals mock and noted that they had the 49ers picking 40th overall in the second round. Newsflash: they’re picking 39th. That ought to tell you something about the reliability of their predictions. BTW, I’ll be posting my own – mock, not porn – later this week.
- Matt

Question: Matt--What do you know about Groves' versatility? It seems to me like predicting how pass rushing skills translate into the NFL is almost as much guesswork as predicting QB and WR success. And wasn't Manny Lawson originally drafted to be a pass rush guy? He obviously has the versatility to contribute well in other areas, but is Groves a one-trick pony? If he can't be consistent at pressuring the QB, will he be valuable in any other areas? Thanks for your input as always!
Eric, Springville, UT

Answer: It’s a great point. Lawson had a lot of sacks in college but has shown little ability as a pass rusher on the NFL level. Groves certainly is heavier, and like I’ve written before, all of his tangibles compare well to DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Sure, it’s guesswork. But it’s educated guesswork.
- Matt

Question: Matt - The Niners' offense was atrocious last season. Their receivers had no speed could not gain any separation from DBs. It seemed like defenses were able to stack at least eight in the box at all times, which also hurt Gore’s production. I don't think that with Bruce and Johnson they've improved at WR. I love the idea of drafting Jackson from Cal because he can make big plays and return kicks. What are your thoughts?
Scott, Sacramento


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Answer: I hear what you’re saying, Scott, but I’m not sold on Jackson. In a wide open offense like Cal’s, a guy with his speed should have dominated more games. He disappeared too much. I fear that he’d come into the NFL, get pushed around by physical DBs at the line of scrimmage and his speed would be negated. Speed alone doesn’t work in the NFL. Just ask Reggie Bush.
- Matt

Question: What do you think of the NT in this draft? I believe that we need a massive NT. I’ve read in some articles that Red Bryant can be unmovable and some teams gave up running at him. I think he will be an upgrade over Franklin. What do you think?
Rebecca, Eureka

Answer: Thanks for representing the ladies, Rebecca. This site was beginning to look like a Star Trek convention it had so many dudes. To answer your question, the 49ers coached Bryant at the Senior Bowl, which ought to have put him squarely on their radar. He was good in Mobile, but wasn’t as good as some other interior guys like Sedrick Ellis, Trevor Laws and Dre Moore. If the 49ers go LB and OT with their first two picks (which I think is a strong possibility) they could snag Bryant later.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt! Big fan of your blog. If Groves and Cherilus are gone by the 29th pick, what do you think of picking up Kenny Phillups? I think there is a chance Goldson will be good, but I think Phillups has too much upside to pass up if Groves and Cherilus are gone. I miss having a playmaking safety around here!
Jonathan, Norcross, Ga.

Answer: You’re right – not enough big plays by the safeties in recent years. Michael Lewis makes plays, but they’re more along the line of scrimmage. The 49ers need more picks, which would be helped by a better pass rush, too. I think safety is a possibility if Groves and Cherilus are gone. But I think a trade down or a cornerback are better possibilities.
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, as far as late round steals, I think that Tommy Blake has the potential to be a star at the pro level. He would provide an excellent pass rush for the 49ers. I know the personal problems he went through with depression and social anxiety disorder. But he has been through therapy and still receiving treatment. His pro day numbers were excellent and I think with positive role models like Frank Gore, Pat Willis and Mike Singletary, this could be a great environment for him. Any news on if he's being evaluated as a potential option?
Jeremy, Montreal

Answer: Well, the 49ers can host 30 draft prospects and they’ve released the names of half a dozen. Dunno if Blake is one of those remaining 20 or so, but it would make sense if he were. The 49ers like to interview guys with question marks by their names (character concerns, injuries, etc.) and Blake certainly falls into that category. In the beginning of the season, he was being compared with Chris Long as one of the best d-ends in the country. If he could recapture his form and get on top of his disorder, he would be the ultimate late-round steal. Unfortunately, he seems like a luxury a team with lots of extra draft picks could afford. The 49ers are not in that category.
- Matt

Question: Yo Matt, Great job all around. My question is: Chad Johnson wants out!! We are looking for a #1 WR Still... What are the chances we trade for OCHO? I mean he would be great in the Martz system, Good YAC, GOOD routes and most of all PROVEN.. I would gladly give up a few draft picks for him. This draft isn’t that spectacular, it’s just deep. What are your thoughts???
Levi, Tracy

Answer: Chances of landing Ocho? Next to nada. First, the Bengals have been resolute in saying they won’t trade him. Second, if Johnson can’t coexist with Carson Palmer don’t you think he would balk at playing in last-in-offense San Francisco? Third, the 49ers have nothing to trade. They’re a team that purports to build through the draft but they have few picks this year. And lastly, Mike Nolan hates head cases.
- Matt

Question: Matt, Great work the blog, man. I was wondering about Strength of Schedule as a predictor of success year-to-year. Do you know if anyone has crunched the numbers to figure out the extent to which a team can get excited about having a schedule full of teams that were sub-.500 last year? Is having x-number of road games in a row a better predictor of success/failure? Thanks again!
Grant, Hamilton, ON

Answer: That’s a really good question. I would imagine SOS is a pretty bad indicator because a lot of teams end up being a lot better (Cleveland) or worse (Atlanta) than they were the year before. Living in Silicon Valley, I happen to be in the land of spread sheets and math-a-holics. Surely, one of you out there can whip up a quick study on the subject. Paraag? Larry? Sergey?
- Matt

Question: Aloha again Matt! Given the fact that Nolan and Co. have a history of trading up, can you see any scenario in which they might trade up in the 1st round to snatch one of the better OT's, WR's or CB's?
Robert, Anahola, Hi

Answer: Mahalo! The only thing that I think would make them jump is if, like last year, they fell madly in love with an OT. But I really don’t see it happening. This draft is deep in all three of the positions you mentioned and the 49ers simply don’t have a lot of ammo with which to barter. I think it’s far more likely that they trade down from their 29th pick.
-- Matt

Question: Hey, great comments. I was just wondering if the 49ers would think about drafting Malcolm Kelly in the first since his stock is apparently dropping.
Sam, McAlester, OK

Answer: Dunno for sure, but I don’t think so. It seems to me that the Niners need a small, jitterbug type receiver more than a big-bodied guy. They have one of those now in Bryant Johnson.

Question: I wanted to point out an error from the previous Q&A. You responded to a question on the cap cost of cutting a player (V. Maiocco in your example - hmmn?). When a player is cut prior to the season, his salary for that season doesn't count against the team's cap for the year.
Matt, Modesto

Answer: Yes, you are correct. In my lame attempt to be funny, I failed to make sure I was right. Sort of a metaphor for my life. I’m going into the bedroom to weep now.
- Matt

Question: Matt did you check out the picture of Dennis Dixon at the 49ers local Pro Day? (see pic below from 49ers.com) It should have been captioned "Skinny Legs and All". I use to think that my wife had skinny legs at 5'7" 116 pounds, but no more. I don't see how Dixon is going to last in the NFL with those toothpicks.
Ken, Salem

dixonsub.jpg

Answer: I can’t believe you posted your wife’s weight on the Internet. Sofa city for Ken for at least a week. Kidding – actually Dixon’s legs look like Ashley Lelie’s. He’s got toothpicks, too. But both of those guys can fly …
- Matt

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April 19, 2008
Groves gets a good vibe from 49ers

Just had a quick phone conversation with Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves, who met with the 49ers yesterday. By now, the 49ers have all they need to know about Groves’ athleticism (excellent) and college production (marvelous). The purpose of the visit was to get a better sense of Groves as a person. The 49ers also want to make sure that certain character concerns wouldn’t be concerns if Groves became a 49er. Groves had a few off-the-field incidents while at Auburn, including a domestic disturbance call (Groves made the call) in 2006.

Character is important to Nolan, McCloughan et al (just ask them), but they have shown a willingness to accept previous transgressions if they were convinced the player had owned up to his mistakes and learned from them. Sometimes they’ve been right (Michael Robinson), sometimes they’ve been wrong (Antonio Bryant). My guess is that the interview went well. The gregarious Groves was a darling of the Auburn area media, was a leader in the Tigers’ locker room last year, and he seemed like a genuinely happy and friendly guy on the phone. Groves said he hung out Friday with Dontarrious Thomas, a former Auburn linebacker, on Friday. Here’s what Groves, who was at a Panda Express restaurant when he took my call, had to say:

Did you meet with Mike Nolan?
He seemed like he was in a rush, so I only spent five minutes with him. I met with him at the combine.

Did you come away with a good vibe from the 49ers?
I think I did. I know I did. I met with coach (Jason) Tarver and coach (Greg) Manusky. We talked for quite a while. It wasn’t so much Xs and Os. I showed them at the combine I was a smart guy. We talked more about personal stuff. They wanted to get to know me.

Which of the teams picking before the 49ers do you think are a possibility?
The Giants, the Jets – every team I’ve been at is a possibility. (Groves said he thought the Steelers at pick No. 23 were a particularly good possibility).

Are all (seven) of the teams that brought you in 3-4 teams?
I had two 4-3 teams – Cincinnati and the New York Giants.

Tell me about those dislocated toes (Groves’ senior season was hindered when he suffered three disclocated toes on his right foot vs. Florida in September.)
I made a tackle on the goal line and as I was getting up, someone stepped on my foot. And all I heard was this pop. (Groves said he dislocated the second, third and fourth toes on his foot and that the injury was so painful they had to cut his shoe off on the sideline.)

If you don’t have that injury, how many sacks do you have at the end of the season?
Only God knows. Definitely more than three.

I imagine you got grilled pretty good about the off-the-field stuff. Do you think you satisfied their questions?
There weren’t any off-the-field issues. I’ve never been arrested, never been caught with drugs, never had none of that stuff. When the scouts ask me that stuff, I told them, me and my wife got into an argument. I never put a hand on her. I’d never hit a woman … What else? I had a wreck when I was in Atlanta. That was one thing. The last thing was I got caught with a bb gun when I was 10 years old.

So you are up front with all that stuff?
I never try to hide stuff. Just tell the truth, that’s my motto. Tell the truth and it won’t be a problem.

How freaked out were you when you found out about your heart issue?
Not so bad. I mean, I’m a guy that lives for today. I mean, I have a lot to live for but if I die it’s no big deal. When they said there’s something wrong with your heart, I said, ‘Can I die from it?’ and they were like, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, how long have I had it?’ and they said, ‘Your whole life.” And I was like, ‘What’s wrong then?’ I’ve been playing football at the highest level possible and there’s not too much that can be wrong with it.

Who wins in a race between you and your wife? (Treska is a former track star at Auburn).
She does. I tried already and she beat me by, like, 10 yards.

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Speaking of Groves, some loser on NFL.com thinks that Groves will be the guy the 49ers end up taking at pick No. 29. If you can tolerate a disturbing reliance on the conversation filler "um" then click here.

-- Matt Barrows

April 18, 2008
DeCoud, Hawkins, Tafralis at local workout

The 49ers are holding their so-called local combine today in which they invite draft prospects who either went to high school or college in a 50-mile radius from Santa Clara. As previously reported, that list includes Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon (Oakland), Cal receiver DeSean Jackson and San Jose State cornerback Dwight Lowery. Just found out that a foursome of other Cal guys, safety Thomas DeCoud, receiver Lavelle Hawkins , receiver Robert Jordan and offensive lineman Brian de la Puente, also are taking part. San Jose State quarterback Adam Tafralis is taking part but Stanford quarterback T.C. Ostrander is not. Tafralis is an interesting prospect because he's so athletic. In fact, some teams are wondering if he could play H-back or fullback. He likely will be a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent.

The 49ers, of course, already got a good look at Hawkins and DeCoud at the Senior Bowl. Hawkins, in fact, probably stood out more than any other receiver during practice (Florida’s Andre Caldwell also looked good) and caught a long touchdown pass in the game.

When trying to read the tea leaves as far as which players have pre-draft visits with the 49ers, it’s important to keep in mind that the team typically doesn’t meet with Senior Bowl players. Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves, for example, was scheduled to have a sit-down with the 49ers today. Groves was slated to play in the Senior Bowl but dropped out at the last minute. Other players the 49ers will speak with like Jackson, Clemson’s Phillip Merling, Florida’s Derrick Harvey and Oklahoma’s Malcolm Kelly are underclassmen who, of course, weren’t invited to the Senior Bowl.

You can also deduce that the 49ers are making sure they take a close look at all the players who might be available to them at pick 29. Some of those players, such as Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus and Notre Dame defensive lineman Trevor Laws, played in the Senior Bowl. The 49ers also spoke with others, such as Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason, at the scouting combine.

**update**
The 49ers just released a short statement that said Miami QB Kyle Wright (Monte Vista High in Danville) and Stanford receiver Evan Moore also attended the team's local pro day. Moore is intriguing. At 6-6, 230 pounds he has excellent size for a receiver but lacks speed. Some teams are looking at him as a tight end. The Sporting News ranks him as the 50th best receiver in the draft.
-- Matt Barrows

April 16, 2008
Mario Manningham's bad air day

I finally got a chance to hear that Mario Manningham radio interview that was causing so much hubbub earlier in the week. For those of you just catching up, the Michigan receiver on Monday had what was described as a disastrous interview with Adam Schein and Tim Hasselbeck on the Sirius Blitz radio show. The term “train wreck” has been used more than once in regard to the interview.

Maybe all the buildup colored my listening experience, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Not train-wreck bad but perhaps fender-bender-where-the-police-get-involed-and-you-have-no-insurance bad. One of the Sirius guys played the interview for me over the phone today because there’s no link to it on the web and I took notes. I kept waiting for that Ryan-Leaf-meltdown moment, but it never came. Yes, Manningham sounded a bit defensive at times but, to be fair, the interviewers were peppering him pretty hard with the same line of questioning. Manningham reportedly failed two drug tests while at Michigan and then didn’t own up to them during interviews at the scouting combine. He and his agent have since sent letters to all 32 teams admitting that he failed the tests. Most of the questions were in that vein.

And no, I don’t think Manningham will be splitting the atom anytime soon, and, yes, I like my chances against him in Final Jeopardy. But Manningham’s been criticized for coming off like a total dunce and in my experience there are far less articulate athletes out there. In my opinion, the worst part of the interview was that Manningham seemed to be conducting it on the run. Lots of jostling sounds and garbled replies. At one point, I thought I heard a car-door chime go off. I don’t know about you, but if I’m doing a national radio interview on the eve of the draft that might be heard by GMs and coaches, I lock myself in a quiet room, pull the drapes, turn off the lights and focus.

Anyway, here are the salient replies from the interview.

On what he’s learned from the drug-test episode:
“I was just decisions, like, dumb decisions that someone like me shouldn’t have made … It was like three years ago when I first came to school.”

On how he will try to make amends:
“Talk to (the teams). Let them know (about) Mario Manningham. The real Mario Manningham. I’m mature. I’m not stupid. I know what to do and what not to do.”

On how he is trying to convey the “real” Mario Manningham in interviews:
“I don’t tell them nothing. I’m just laughing and smiling … just having a conversation with them.”

On how he’s reacted to the flap:

“I’m not worried about people talking because people are going to talk.”

On criticism that he dropped passes in key moments while at Michigan:
“(laughs) Hey, can’t do nothing. It happens. They say I drop balls, ok, what about caught balls? I can’t say nothing. I just play – get out there and get my ball on.”

On Michigan State’s Devin Thomas getting more pre-draft hype than him:
“That’s someone else’s opinion. I have my own opinion.”

On mock drafts:
“You really can’t pay attention to the mock drafts because some of (the mock drafters) haven’t played a down of football in their life.”

By the way, Manningham said he had visits lined up with the Giants, Dolphins and Texans. The Chron reported that he visited the Raiders today.

-- Matt Barrows

April 16, 2008
Mike Mayock talks draft with reporters

Just got off a conference call with Mike Mayock, the NFL Network’s draft expert. Not a lot of 49ers-specific questions but he did have a few interesting responses about players the 49ers might be interested in.

· LB Quentin Groves. Mayock said he didn’t think that Groves was first-round material. “I think he’s a reach in the first round,” Mayock said. “Mostly because he was inconsistent and he’s had some personal issues and off-the-field concerns.” As many of you have noted, some mock drafts have Groves going late in the second round. It’s obvious that there’s some information about Groves that teams don’t like. The question is whether the 49ers, who have been able to reassure themselves about other players with personal problems, feel they can do the same with Groves.

· DE Phillip Merling. Mayock said he thought Merling, who will interview in Santa Clara, is one of the most intriguing players because he has not been able to work out due to a sports hernia. Mayock said he thought Merling was a Top 15 type of player who might fall further because of the injury. He said the situation reminded him of that of tight end Heath Miller, who fell all the way to Pittsburgh at the end of the first round in 2005. “I remember Bill Cowher giggling and laughing and (saying) ‘Can you believe he fell all the way to us?’” Mike Nolan and the 49ers also were eying Miller that year, hoping he’d fall to them at pick 33. He didn’t and they chose Davis Baas.

· DL Trevor Laws. Mayock pointed out Laws’ massive tackle total at Notre Dame and the fact that even though he's a tad over 6-feet Laws blocked six kicks. “That tells me he understands football and leverage and goes 100 percent every play.” You have to believe the 49ers are impressed with the same qualities. The question is whether Laws fits their scheme.

· OT Gosder Cherilus. Mayock said the draft was very deep in offensive tackles and that he had BC’s Cherilus ranked as the fifth-best among them. He said he thought Cherilus would go somewhere between pick 25 and 32.

· Mayock said one of the most intriguing dramas heading into the draft would be the second quarterback taken. He’s a huge Matt Ryan guy and figures Ryan will go very early. But those teams that pass on a quarterback – Atlanta, for example –might want to trade back into the first round to grab the guy they feel is the No. 2 quarterback. That’s where the 49ers, at pick No. 29, could come into play.

-- Matt Barrows

April 15, 2008
Niners' schedule

The 49ers had four prime-time games last season when they were everybody's darlings to win the NFC West. This season? Well, if the schedule is any indication, the expectations are much lower. The 49ers have only one prime-time game, a Monday night matchip with the Cardinals in Arizona. Last year's game in Glendale, of course, was the most entertaining of the year for the 49ers and included Patrick Willis running down Sean Morey to save a touchdown and Tully Banta-Cain falling on a loose ball in the end zone in overtime.

Remember last year at this time when the second half of the 49ers' schedule looked like it would be a cinch? This year, five out of the team's last eight games are on the road, and the home finale is against Washington, a playoff team in 2007. So the first half of the sked must be easy, right? Well, they play the Seahawks -- a team that thrashed them last season -- twice and also each of the Super Bowl contenders.

On a purely selfish note ... Nov. 30 in Buffalo? Are you freakin' kidding me? Roger Goodell obviously didn't get my strongly worded e-mail about not wanting to visit upper New York State past Sept. 15. I might have to cut open a ton-ton to survive. Of course, I'll probably be able to thaw out in Miami two weeks later ...

Sept. 7 Arizona Cardinals 1:15PM FOX
Sept. 14 @ Seattle Seahawks 1:05PM FOX
Sept. 21 Detroit Lions 1:05PM FOX
Sept. 28 @ New Orleans Saints 12:00PM 10AM FOX
Oct. 5 New England Patriots 1:15PM CBS
Oct. 12 Philadelphia Eagles 1:15PM FOX
Oct. 19 @ New York Giants 1:00PM 10AM FOX
Oct. 26 Seattle Seahawks 1:15PM FOX
Nov. 2 BYE
Nov. 10 @ Arizona Cardinals 6:30PM 5:30PM ESPN
Nov. 16 St. Louis Rams 1:05PM # FOX
Nov. 23 @ Dallas Cowboys 12:00PM # 10AM FOX
Nov. 30 @ Buffalo Bills 1:00PM # 10AM FOX
Dec. 7 New York Jets 1:05PM # CBS
Dec. 14 @ Miami Dolphins 1:00PM # 10AM FOX
Dec. 21 @ St. Louis Rams 12:00PM # 10AM FOX
Dec. 28 Washington Redskins 1:15PM # FOX

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The 49ers also announced that they have hired Dave Fipp as their assistant special teams coach. Fipp spent the last three years with San Jose State. He was the Spartans' defensive coordinator last season and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the Spartans the previous two seasons. Fipp replaces Jeff Rodgers, who is now with Kansas State.

-- Matt Barrows

April 14, 2008
Michael Lewis wearing heart on his sleeve

When I say you need a medical degree to cover the NFL, I’m not just talking about an expertise in knees, ankles and Achilles’ heals. The heart has been a big topic in recent weeks. Draft prospect Heath Benedict died suddenly last month because, according to his agent, of an enlarged heart. Benedict was one of the players Mike Nolan and his staff coached at the Senior Bowl. Then last week we learned that Quentin Groves, a player the 49ers might take with the 29th pick, had a procedure to remove an extra circuit in his heart last month.

Today I got a press release that 49ers’ safety Michael Lewis will participate in the National Start! Walking Day event Wednesday in downtown San Jose. Why? The event promotes walking, a healthier lifestyle and the prevention of heart disease. I must have been living under a rock not to know this, but while in college Lewis was diagnosed with the heart condition called atrial fibrillation. When he was with the Eagles, Lewis became a spokesperson for the Philadelphia chapter of the American Heart Association and on Wednesday Lewis will talk about his condition and the importance of regular exercise. Obviously, Lewis’ heart condition is treatable. And it has not slowed him athletically as anyone who saw him run down Sean Morey on Nov. 25 can attest.

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The NFL schedule will be released tomorrow starting at 11 a.m. I get the feeling that NFL Network is going to make it into an entire show, a la the NCAA tournament announcement. Of course, we already know whom the 49ers will play. In addition to their division foes, they’ll face the AFC East (New England and New York at home; Miami and Buffalo on the road). They’ll also travel to Dallas, New Orleans and the New York Giants and host the Eagles, Redskins and Lions. The information I’m most interested in? Will I be in Buffalo in early September or late December? Please, Roger Goodell, let it be the former.

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The 49ers announced they have released receiver C.J. Brewer, an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming in 2006. Brewer was a practice-squad standout who made quite a few acrobatic catches before suffering a knee injury last season.

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There’s someone else leaving the 49ers. Publicity manager Kat Madariaga’s final day with the team will be Friday. I’ve worn black every day since hearing the news.

-- Matt Barrows

April 13, 2008
Smells like 'Tween Spirit

If I had to bet today on whom the 49ers would take in the first round of the draft, I’d have to say Auburn’s Quentin Groves. The 49ers need an edge rusher and Groves appears to be the best of the bunch. As I’ve written before, he compares well (numbers-wise, at least) to DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and other 3-4 'tweeners taken in the first round in recent years.

But there are plenty of reasons why the 49ers might not go with Groves, not the least of which is that he might not be around when they pick. There are several 3-4 teams, notably the Cowboys, Steelers and Chargers, picking just ahead of the 49ers who have Groves on their radar. Another reason is the philosophy of the 3-4 – that you can find small but productive defensive ends that no one else wants later in the draft and plug them in at linebacker. That’s what the 49ers have done in recent drafts, taking Parys Haralson in the fifth round and Jay Moore in the fourth.

So if the 49ers don’t get Groves, who else can they select who can help their pass rush? There are a few options:

1. Cliff Avril, Purdue, 6-2, 253. Avril was the best edge rusher at the Senior Bowl and he gave the North squad’s tackles, including Gosder Cherilus, a tough time during pass-rush drills. Avril’s a very good athlete with an array of moves. What he lacks is size and power. The 49ers probably could get him in the second round.

2. Lawrence Jackson, USC, 6-4, 271. Jackson, of course, was a defensive end at USC and only stood up a few times for the Trojans. Still, some teams are looking at him as a 3-4 linebacker and his combine numbers showed he has good speed and athleticism. He appears to have a similar body type to Moore and the Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka – players who were switched from defensive end to linebacker. He’s another guy the 49ers could pick up in the second round.

After those two players, you start to wonder whether anyone the 49ers could draft is any better than the three players already at the rush linebacker position, Tully Banta-Cain, Parys Haralson and Roderick Green. Here are the best of the rest.

1. Darrell Robertson, Ga. Tech, 6-3, 255. He might be a better all-around linebacker who is best suited for the strong-side position.

2. Titus Brown, Miss. State, 6-2, 246. Productive at MSU and was good at the Senior Bowl. But he didn’t jump out the way Avril did.
3. Marcus Howard, Georgia, 6-0, 237. Productive college player, but is he too small to be a 3-4 pass rusher?
4. Jason Jones, Eastern Mich., 6-5, 270. He played defensive tackle in college and would be a long-term project at outside linebacker. Still, he made steady improvement at the Senior Bowl.
5. Bruce Davis, UCLA, 6-2, 252. Savvy and productive college player who needs to get stronger to be effective on the next level.
6. Vince Redd, Liberty, 6-5, 263. Looks the part and ran an impressive 4.56 40 at his pro day. But you have to question the caliber of his college competition.

-- Matt Barrows

April 12, 2008
Q&A: Wherefore art thou, Takeo?

Question: Hi, I’ve been hearing all these rumors about Takeo Spikes and his suitors. Do you think he has a chance signing with the 49ers? If he does, when do you think he will make his decision? Patrick Willis, Manny Lawson, and Takeo Spikes would not be a bad trio. Go Niners!
Baron, San Francisco

Answer: I think the answer will come after the draft when Spikes and his agent can assess where he has the best opportunity to be a starter. For example, if the Saints take an inside linebacker in the first round of the draft, Spikes might want to look elsewhere. The system Spikes would play, whether Spikes has a chance for the playoffs and a little something called “mulah” also factor into his decision …
- Matt

Question: There's been considerable talk about Synder at left guard. I believe he's an excellent player all around, but won't his height be a problem in the passing game? I seem to recall Kwame wasn't considered as an option at guard rather than tackle (where his pass blocking deficiencies are well known) because he was quite tall as well. What do you say?
Paul, Alameda

Answer: When I was looking up Snyder’s height to answer your question, I expected him to be 6-3 or maybe 6-4. Actually, he’s 6-6. Funny – he doesn’t seem that tall to me, maybe because he’s got such a wide base. But to answer your question, no, I don’t think it will be a problem. Quarterbacks don’t always throw over their linemen anyway. They try to find lanes to throw into. As for Harris, he was just built differently than Snyder – longer legs, higher center of gravity. I think the big reason why he didn’t play guard, however, is that he was needed for depth at tackle. Once Jonas Jennings went down last year, Harris was the top backup on both the right and left side.
- Matt

Question: ILB/OLB Dan Connor (Penn State) seems to be Nolan's type of guy: Not a super run-jump athlete, he nevertheless is a super football player, getting off-the-chart grades for toughness, instincts, football skills (eg, tackling) and football IQ. Is there any chance 49ers would take Connor at # 29 to play OLB?
Cody, Lafayette

Answer: You know who Connor reminds me of? Derek Smith (in his prime). If the 49ers took Connor at pick No. 29, I think they would plug him in at TED and not OLB. (And I think you could kiss Takeo Spikes goodbye as well). But I also think the 49ers believe they can find a good TED candidate later in the draft. Smith, after all, was a third-round pick. And if they don’t, they have a decent shot of landing Spikes.
- Matt

derek smith.jpg dan connor.jpg


Question: Aloha Matt! Off the subject a bit from draft stuff … but I really thought Baas would turn out to be a spectacular lineman and I still do--what do you think about his future? Can he be the perennial star that some of us hoped he would be? Thanks. I read you every day!
Robert, Anahola, HI

Answer: Aloha! Well, this will be the first year Baas goes into training camp with no competition. I think the 49ers were happy with what they saw from him last year. If they weren’t they’d have made a stronger push (or any push at all) to retain Justin Smiley. But as far as being “spectacular” – eh, he certainly took his time to become merely “good.’
- Matt

Question: Do you see the 49ers going OT in the first and then trade down with the Dolphins if Quentin Groves were to fall? Or would they just take Groves in the first? Say DeSean Jackson fell to 29, would 49ers take him? Last one – do you see the Niners doing any trades come draft day?
Christian, Danuba

Answer: I see the Niners’ list of priorities like this. A.) If Groves falls to them, they take him. B.) If not, they try to trade down and grab a couple of additional picks. C.) If neither A or B pan out, then they take the BPA, no matter the position. That could be Connor or Jackson or Early Doucet or a cornerback.
- Matt

Question: I agree with your summary on Staley, but to add one point: knowing you have 'a player' (i.e. long term starter) is worth more than just the potential of the 7th overall pick, who could easily be a bust. I checked past drafts and the success rate is about 50% for the 1st round, 40% for the second, then 30%, 25%, 20% as you go on. With this in mind, it surprises me that more teams just don't trade an early pick for a bunch of later ones. Do you think the Niners, post Tampergate, will try that this year?
Nick, Sidney

Answer: I totally agree with you – a Staley in the hand is worth two in the bush, if you will. And I think more teams would trade down if they could. No one wants a Top 10 pick anymore because the cost is so prohibitive and, as you noted, Top 10 picks don’t always pan out. I think the 49ers are in a good position to trade out of the first round, however, and will jump at a chance to do so.
- Matt

Question: I've heard/read a lot about the Niners giving away the #7 pick in the draft. Knowing what we do about him now, if Joe Staley were in this year's draft, where do you think he would be selected?
Ron, Elk Grove

Answer: No. 7. Seriously, I think he’d be a Top 10 pick.
- Matt

Question: Matt, what components of a released player's contract impact the salary cap? Specifically, I was wondering what releasing a player like Jonas Jennings who still has four years on his seven year, $36 million contract is. Which parts (i.e. signing bonus, base salary, etc) remains detrimental to the future cap and which parts do the 49ers get a reprieve on? Just trying to better understand the consequences/motivations of such a move. It wouldn’t seem to make sense given how thin we are on the o-line unless it doesn’t hurt the cap and saves money out the door. Thanks!
Ken, L.A.

Answer: The player’s salary for that season plus whatever bonus money is still unpaid affect the salary cap. So, let’s say a random player – let’s call him Vladimir Maiocco – signs a six-year deal with a $20 million bonus. Maybe Maiocco turns out to be a huge bust who got caught buck naked at the Wendy’s drive-thru at 1 a.m. and his team wants to cut him at the end of three years. The cap hit would be his salary in Year Four plus the $10 million still unpaid from the bonus. The 49ers would get a reprieve on the rest of his base salary.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, I just have to say that in being a die hard fan, your blogs and articles are always on time and on point and I thank you for keeping us all updated. Now my question is. We drafted Alex to lead, Frank to carry, Vernon to catch but why is it that we haven’t drafted a no1 receiver for the past 4 years. We try to add a receiver through free agency, and we do have Jason Hill, but at the same time he was drafted in the third round. Please can you answer why?
JerseyNiner, Trenton

Answer: Nolan always has wanted this to be a run-first, pound-the-rock type of team. So, offensive linemen (three in the first three rounds) have been their priority, not receivers. Last year, the team really liked Dwayne Bowe (K.C.) but thought that Patrick Willis was better. Hard to argue with that.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, in your opinion who would the 49ers choose at #29 and in what order between DeSean Jackson, Devin Thomas, Quentin Groves, Jeff Otah and Gosder Cherilus? Most likely only one will slip to them but which one would they be the most excited about being available to them?
Steve, Penryn

Answer: I’d put the order like this: Groves, Otah (close between those two), Cherilus, Thomas, Jackson.
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, After a dismal 2007 and with the addition of Mike Martz as the team's Offensive Coordinator, the presence of Allen Rossum on Special Teams and keeping in tact (mainly) the defense from last year, which unit do you feel will make the biggest improvement? Your insight, as always, is greatly appreciated.
Xavier, Sacramento

Answer: Offense. There’s nowhere to go but up.
- Matt

Question:Matt: I am a huge 49er & BSU fan. Ryan Clady, BSU left tackle, should be long gone by the time that the 49ers pick in the first round, but what do you think about him? I, also, wanted to say hi to my brother Steve. He lives in Penryn, and is a big fan of yours!
Bruce, Meridian, ID

Answer: Hey, Steve! Wanted to let you know that Bruce says, “hi.” He loves the electric shaver you got him for Xmas. Wants to know if you and the fam are still coming over for the 4th of July. … As for Clady, I really don’t know much about him because, as you say, he stands to be long gone by the time the Niners pick.
- Matt

Question: Ummmm, you played football, Matt? What position? Waterboy? Just kidding. No, seriously though, I didn't get into college ball (Military) but played both WR and CB in Highschool. Though my whacked out HC would play me on the Defensive Line as an End. At that time I stood 5'8" and weighed MAYBE 125 lbs. soaking wet. Not much has changed over 20 years just a couple inches taller. So I do believe you but dude, you could not have been much heavier if I'm judging the pics of you correctly.
C.A., Goldendale, Wa.

Answer: Ummmmm, wasn’t the lesson from “Waterboy” to never make fun of the Waterboy?… When I say I played football on Saturdays, I didn’t mean in front of thousands of cheering college football fans. I meant hungover at 10 a.m. in a municipal park in which we had to dodge dog doo. And as a fellow shrimp, why are you making fun of me? That’s shrimp-on-shrimp crime, and that’s just wrong.
- Matt


April 11, 2008
Groves to visit next Friday

Quentin Groves’ visit to Santa Clara has been postponed a week, according to his agent. The team originally planned to interview the Auburn linebacker, a possibility with the No. 29 pick, today. Instead, he’ll come in on the 18th. That’s the date of the 49ers’ so-called local combine in which they host all the draft prospects with ties to Northern California. Players like DeSean Jackson (Cal) and Dennis Dixon (Oakland) are expected to be in attendance. I’m hoping (hint, hint) that with all this action the 49ers open their gates and make the event open to the media. Hey, Pete Carroll does it for USC’s pro day and it doesn’t seem to be a problem …

****
The good folks at 49erswebzone alerted me about an account to benefit the family of Luis "Al" Solari, a longtime 49ers fan who was shot to death on I-280 Wednesday. Here's the info ...

Lilia Solari Family Benefit Account
A.G. Edwards-Wachovia Bank
456 Montgomery, 16th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104-9763

-- Matt Barrows

April 10, 2008
Merling, Harvey, Kelly to visit 49ers

The 49ers just released a partial list of the college players who will be visiting before the draft. There are a couple of interesting names on the list, including a pair of defensive ends, Florida's Derrick Harvey and Clemson's Phillip Merling. In addition, Oklahoma receiver Malcolm Kelly will visit Monday, according to his agent Chad Speck.

Here's the list:
Shane Simmons – Western Washington – LB
Ryan Wendell – Fresno St. – OL
Quentin Groves – Auburn – LB
Dwight Lowery – San Jose – CB
Phillip Merling – Clemson – DE
DeSean Jackson – CAL – WR
Derrick Harvey – Florida – DE

Teams can bring in 30 prospects before the draft, and the 49ers sometimes bring in players they have no intention of drafting. Harvey, for example, is expected to be drafted well before the 49ers are on the clock at pick No. 29. In fact, some believe the Patriots could choose Harvey with the No. 7 pick the 49ers traded away last April. Why would the 49ers interview him then? If they fell in love with Harvey, it's possible they could trade up to get him if he slipped farther than expected. The 49ers also file away their interview results and look them up again when players hit the free-agent market several years from now. Other players are brought in who could be signed as undrafted free agents as soon as the draft is over.

Many of you probably are somewhat familiar with Groves, Jackson, Harvey, Merling and Kelly. Here's some info on the other guys the 49ers are interviewing.

* Guard Ryan Wendell, Fresno State
6-2 1/2, 287 pounds
The Sporting News ranks him as the 24th best guard in the draft. Bottom line: Wendell is a good all-around lineman who can help a team at guard or center. His NFL coaches must be patient because it will take time for Wendell to add the necessary bulk to compete. He could develop into a starter down the road, though.

* Dwight Lowery, San Jose State
5-11 3/8, 198
The Sporting News ranks him as the 20th-best cornerback. Bottom line: Lowery thought about leaving school for the '07 draft but made the wise decision to stay for his senior season. That said, his performance as a senior didn't improve his draft stock much. Lowery allows way too many catches to inferior receivers; in games we graded on film, he allowed five catches for every pass he broke up. He was one of the more athletic cornerbacks at the East-West Shrine Game, but Lowery is not a playmaker worthy of a high draft choice. Barrows' note: I covered the UC Davis-San Jose State game this year and the Aggies went after Lowery -- successfully -- early in the game. Read into that what you will ...

* Linebacker Shane Simmons, Western Washington
6-1 1/4, 239 pounds
The Sporting News ranks him as the 44th-best outside linebacker. They do not have an evaluation on him at this point.

-- Matt Barrows

April 9, 2008
Niners could do a cornerback sneak at pick No. 29

After the South squad’s first Senior Bowl practice in January, I walked up to Mike Nolan and asked him what he thought about his team. It was too early to give a detailed impression, he said, but one thing was clear – the South had very good cornerbacks. When he was on NFL Network last month, he told the hosts that he thought the draft was strong in offensive tackles and cornerbacks. And this past weekend in Tahoe, Nolan said that offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and corner were possibilities with the team’s No. 29 pick in the draft.

Going into the draft, I believe the 49ers are hoping that one of a handful of players, including Auburn’s Quentin Groves, falls to them at the end of the first round. I also think they will listen very carefully to teams that want to trade for their No. 29 pick. Their failsafe – Plan C, if you will – may be to draft the best cornerback available.

The 49ers, of course, have one Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in Nate Clements. But they play in a pass-happy division and their other starter, Walt Harris, will be 34 when the season begins. Shawntae Spencer could eventually replace Harris, but he has had trouble staying healthy, even in a back-up role. The team also is high on Tarell Brown’s potential, but he is an unproven commodity at this point. Marcus Hudson and Donald Strickland, meanwhile, seem more like role players than long-term starters.

Cornerback certainly isn’t a sexy pick, but coaches love to accumulate them. Having two (or three) good cornerbacks gives defenses more flexibility. Nolan, for example, loves to allow his safety, Michael Lewis, to play all over the field and make plays along the line of scrimmage. It also should be noted that the 49ers haven’t selected a cornerback higher than the fifth round (Brown) under the Nolan-McCloughan regime.

So whom would the 49ers select? It’s safe to say that the two cornerback stars from the Senior Bowl, Troy’s Leodis McKelvin and Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, will be gone by the 29th pick. But there might be some other prominent names on the board such as Kansas’ Aqib Talib, South Florida’s Michael Jenkins and Virginia Tech’s Brandon Flowers.

******
By the way, The Sporting News held its annual correspondent’s draft yesterday. When it came time for me to draft, Groves and Gosder Cherilus already were off the board. So whom did I select? Gotta buy TSN to find out. (McCloughan is dashing out to the nearest magazine stand as we speak …)

****
Like many of you, I was intrigued by Kevin Lynch’s recent report that Bryant Young had yet to file retirement papers, so I contacted BY’s agent, Sacramento’s own Don Yee, to see if anything was afoot. Here’s what Yee wrote back in an e-mail: “BY is enjoying his offseason, which has included participating in team charitable functions. The filing of 'retirement papers' is an administrative and benefits-related procedure is all." That doesn’t exactly slam the door on BY returning for another season. But Young has said he’s played his last game. And what BY says, BY does …

-- Matt Barrows

April 8, 2008
The Joe Staley trade one year later

Joe Staley attended his first-ever NASCAR race this offseason. In February Staley saw the Daytona 500 and met a number of the drivers. He chatted with Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip, but his favorite driver was Tony Stewart. Why? “He’s kind of a (jerk), which I can appreciate,” Staley said. Except he didn’t use “jerk.” He used a certain two-syllable anatomical word that I can’t repeat in this space. But I wish I could because it’s precisely why I like Staley and why I believe that, in the end, he will be worth the “controversial” trade that landed him last year. In short, I think the 49ers need more (jerks).

When I first started covering the 49ers, it was a team ruled by offensive linemen. Guys like Ron Stone and Derrick Deese and Jeremy Newberry were the police, both in the locker room and on the practice field. And they weren’t the friendly cops on the corner twirling their batons while giving lollipops to the kids. They got into fights at practice and were loud an obnoxious in the locker room. They were (jerks). But the rest of the team paid attention to them and that tough-guy swagger carried over to game day.

Since Newberry left, no one has stepped in to fill that leadership void. Staley has the potential. It was noted the other day that Staley was one of a handful of rookies who played every snap last season. What wasn’t noted is that Staley played through an assortment of ailments, including a broken thumb and never made a peep. He gained confidence throughout the season, and as he did he started to show the swagger and feistiness the offensive line needs. Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan have been looking for someone to set the tone for the offensive line since they arrived in 2005. They may have finally found that guy in Joe Staley.

So I think that the 49ers made a good move by trading what turned out to be the No. 7 overall pick to New England so they could grab Staley last year. But it’s damn close. The 49ers, of course, are hurt by the fact that they played so poorly last season and that there seem to be exactly seven top-tier prospects in this draft. In fact, several mock drafts have the Patriots taking USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (the best player at the Senior Bowl) or Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston (the best player at the combine).

You also have to consider that had the 49ers not traded for Staley, they could have used their second-round pick last year on another well-regarded tackle, Tony Ugoh. The Colts, of course, grabbed Ugoh after trading with the 49ers. Is Ugoh as good as Staley? Only time will tell. The 49ers obviously didn’t think so, and Ugoh did miss five games last season because of injury. So when assessing the trade, you really have to compare Staley and whomever the 49ers select at pick No. 29 this year with Ugoh and whomever is taken at pick No. 7.

The economic impact of the trade also needs to be noted. Top 10 selections get paid an obscene amount of money, so much that several team officials, including Indy’s Bill Polian, say the system should be changed by possibly adding an NBA-like slotting system. The 49ers, in other words, feel they nabbed a Top 10-caliber player but are paying him Bottom-10 (of the first round) money.

You also can argue that Staley helped the 49ers land their biggest offseason acquisition. Upon joining the 49ers, new offensive coordinator Mike Martz raved about two players: running back Frank Gore and Staley. Martz has touched on the same theme several times since – his aerial success in St. Louis had as much to do with pass protection than it did with the quality of his quarterbacks and receivers.

-- Matt Barrows

April 7, 2008
So far, Niners not the hosts with the most

Been on the horn with agents the last few days trying to track down which prospects are making a pre-draft visit to the 49ers. Not a lot of luck. Chris Williams? Nope. Gosder Cherilus? Nada. Jeff Otah? Not thus far. Dre Moore? Cliff Avril? Malcolm Kelly? No. No. No.

chris williams.jpg malcolm.jpg gosder.jpg

What does this mean? Nothing really. The 49ers tend to bring in prospects about whom they have questions. Last year, for instance, Tarell Brown was one of their pre-draft visitors. The 49ers looked at the game film and saw a cornerback with first-day skills. But Brown had had a couple of run-ins with the law and they wanted to talk to him and make sure he had the right attitude.

The 49ers also are Senior Bowl devotees, and they tend to answer a lot of their questions about players by spending a week with them in January. The 49ers already took a close look at guys like Cherilus, Williams, Avril and Moore in Mobile. If you’ll remember, Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves pulled out of the Senior Bowl at the last minute. That’s a big reason why the 49ers will host him in Santa Clara on Friday.

******
Mike Triplett, my former Bee colleague and current Saints beatwriter for the NO Times-Picayune, recently published his mock draft. I was really looking forward to ripping it apart. As it turns out, it's pretty solid. The only things I might tweak are Darren McFadden dropping a little lower and Brian Brohm dropping at least until the very end of the first round. I really like the Dan Connor-to-Pittsburgh pick. The Steelers need to replace James Farrior, who, after all, was my classmate at UVA. That was a long, long time ago …It’s also interesting that Mike has the Saints picking Keith Rivers. If that happens, the Saints likely will drop out of the Takeo Spikes sweepstakes.

1. Miami Dolphins, Chris Long, DE, Virginia
2. St./Louis Rams, Jake Long, OT, Michigan
3. Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
4. Oakland Raiders, Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
5. Kansas City Chiefs, Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
6. New York Jets, Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
7. New England Patriots, Vernon Gholston, DE/LB, Ohio State
8. Baltimore Ravens, Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy
9. Cincinnati Bengals, Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
10. Saints, Keith Rivers, LB, USC
11. Buffalo Bills, Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
12. Denver Broncos, Branden Albert, G, Virginia
13. Carolina Panthers, Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
14. Chicago Bears, Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt
15. Detroit Lions, Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson
16. Arizona Cardinals, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State
17. Minnesota Vikings, Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
18. Houston Texans, Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
19. Philadelphia Eagles, Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State
21. Washington Redskins, Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
22. Dallas Cowboys, DeSean Jackson, WR, California
23. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Connor, LB, Penn State
24. Tennessee Titans, Jonathan Stewart, RB Oregon
25. Seattle Seahawks, Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma
26. Jacksonville Jaguars, Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina
27. San Diego Chargers, Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
28. Dallas Cowboys, Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
29. San Francisco 49ers, Quentin Groves, LB, Auburn
30. Green Bay Packers, Kenny Phillips, S, Miami
31. New England Patriots, forfeited after Spygate scandal
32. New York Giants, Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee

-- Matt Barrows

April 6, 2008
A tale of two tackles

The 49ers have two starting offensive tackles who are in two entirely different places – literally and figuratively – right now. Joe Staley is on top of the world. Last month, coach Mike Nolan called him into his office and told Staley that he was the team’s new left tackle. Staley’s been working on his footwork for the new position and says he’s already at his target weight – 320 pounds – for the 2008 season. “I just want to lean up,” he said recently. “I just want to cut this fat out.” Staley recently bought a home in Campbell and will be playing next to buddy, Adam Snyder, who has been penciled in as the starting left guard. Staley said it’s easier to play next to someone you’re friends with and that all of the offensive linemen hang out together off the field.

jonas.jpg staley.jpg

All, that is, except for Jonas Jennings. While the rest of the team has been taking part in the 49ers’ conditioning program in Santa Clara, Jennings has been home in Georgia tending to his ailing mother. Jennings is very close to his mom and he was obviously affected when friend and teammate Frank Gore lost his mother last season. Jennings was one of the players who accompanied Gore to Liz Gore’s funeral in September. Jennings is a fiercely private person and has chosen not to share his family issues. We do know, however, that his mother’s health was one of the reasons Jennings briefly left the team in October. Actually, the Jennings family suffered a double whammy – his niece was involved in a car accident around the same time.

It’s not known when Jennings will return to Santa Clara, although he is expected to take part in the team's May 2 minicamp. Even when he returns, the 49ers will be perilously thin at the tackle position. While Staley has been practicing his footwork at left tackle, Damane Duckett has been the team’s de facto right tackle. The 49ers are very high on Duckett’s potential, but the former defensive tackle needs plenty more seasoning before he can be counted on at the position. That’s why the 49ers are expected to select an offensive tackle early in the draft later this month.

-- Matt Barrows

April 5, 2008
Q&A: Groves has too many suitors

Question: I noticed that all the teams that are interested in Groves pick ahead of the Niners. What are the chances we'll get him? Thanks!
Paul, Sacramento

Answer: Well, I think some of the teams that are sniffing around Quentin Groves – Miami, for example – hope he slips into the second round. If the Dolphins don’t take Chris Long No. 1 overall (big mistake imo) they may want Groves to play that pass-rush linebacker position. Who knows – maybe that strategy will prompt the Dolphins to trade with the 49ers, thus giving San Francisco more picks. In other words, I think the chances of landing Groves are slim for two reasons. 1.) He probably won’t be around at pick No. 29. 2.) If he is around, other teams will want to jump forward to pick him. And with only six selections, the 49ers would listen very carefully to the offers they get.
- Matt

Question: Well, I’m at a point were I can’t wait for the draft to get here, but I think that this team is in for a breakout season and my question to you is how much will this team concentrate on defense, which I believe to be the most important part of football.
Lee, Sacramento

Answer: Well, the 49ers finished last in just about every major offensive category last season and they have big needs at offensive tackle and receiver. But they also have needs at linebacker and defensive line. So in the end, I think the split will be 50-50 between offense and defense.
- Matt

Question: I, like many others, wonder how the 49er team will play this year. Does anyone besides me think Mike Nolan has done a poor job of clock management? It seems to me like he needs someone standing next to him to take on that task during games.
Clayton, Rancho Cordova

martz.jpg
Answer: You’re not alone, Clayton. Nolan’s in-game weaknesses are clock management and what do in third-and-one and fourth-and-one situations. He needs to give both of those duties to someone with a long and respected offensive background, someone who possesses offensive creativity, someone who can manage an offense. If only there was someone who fit that description …
- Matt

Question: The niners brought in Isaac Bruce. He is winding down. Bryant. Johnson was a third option in AZ but he performed well given the chance. Arnaz Battle was a career #2 option in SF. They seem to have a log jam at the #2 with no clear-cut #1 WR. With Martz in town, where is the Torry Holt/Roy Williams caliber player? Can Martz succeed with his current personnel? Before he had great talent with quick underneath guys now he has neither.
Scott, Elk Grove

Answer: This question has been asked of Martz on several occasions and each time he answers the same way: There is plenty of talent already on the roster. Remember, this is a guy who squeezed excellent production out of Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald. He doesn’t need a 6-4, 215-pound wideout who runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds and leaps 40 inches. I think it’s obvious that he likes Ashley Lelie (or Lelie would be out of here) and he’s recently said nice things about Arnaz Battle. The 49ers acquired Bryant Johnson, and they wouldn’t have done so without checking in with Martz first. And we know how he feels about Isaac Bruce. Your comment about a quick, underneath guy is well taken, however. I expect the 49ers to select that type of player (Va. Tech’s Eddie Royal or Louisville’s Harry Douglas perhaps?) in the third or fourth round.
- Matt

Question: Have you heard anything about Gore having a bone degenerative condition in his right hip? Realfootball365 reported it but I haven’t seen any one else report anything about.
David, San Jose

april.jpg

Answer: I have no problem with April fool’s jokes. In fact, some of the April 1 “stories” over the years (Jason Taylor pursuing a dance career; Taco Bell buying the naming rights to the Liberty Bell) are hilarious because they’re so outlandish. But a story about a young athlete with a career-ending injury? Wow. That’s pretty low. Maybe next year they can do an April 1 story about a terrorist attack or about a prominent football player being diagnosed with cancer. No wonder young David swallowed the story hook, line and sinker – who would joke about a degenerative hip condition?
- Matt

Question: I caught that 2003 comeback against the Giants, too. Who knew it would be the last really great memorable moment for a once proud franchise? Anyway, here's my question: I saw where Kraft and Belichick apologized to owners and coaches at the NFL Meeting on Tuesday... In your opinion, is it premature for Kraft to be apologizing when the additional Matt Walsh evidence has yet to be reviewed? Do you believe this was done because the Pats are confidant Walsh has nothing truly damaging, or could it be a potential attempt to influence others' viewpoints early in the process?
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: I agree. I have a hard time believing that the Rams representative at the owners meeting got up and gave Kraft and Belichick a standing O. I understand why the owners might want to put this messy affair behind them. But if their gunslinging commissioner truly wants to clean up the town, he won’t let go of the issue so easily. Matt Walsh needs to talk.
- Matt

Question: Can you please tell Nolan to trade for Pacman. I know he is trouble but I think Nate Clements could keep him on the straight and narrow. He would shore up our CB issue and is a dynamic return man. He would make us just that much more dangerous. I know Nolan isn't wild with "problem children" but maybe he could make an exception just this once. What do you think?
Sean, Sacramento

Answer: No thanks. I don’t want to be fielding phone calls at 3 a.m. telling me there’s been an incident at the Pink Poodle.
- Matt

Question: I wanted 2 know if the 49ers would consider in trading there 1rst round pick 4 a well named linebacker that can play the ted spot good and get a OL in second cuz isn't this years draft filled with good OL.
Cris, Fresno

Answer: First of all, I weep for your English teacher (who should be fired) and for the future. Second, I don’t see the 49ers trading away any picks. They’re still in rebuilding mode and need all the picks they can get. If they do any trading, it will be trading down.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt--Looking into the future, how is the 49ers free agency situation in 2009 going to affect their 2008 draft? What impact players will become free agents after this year that might create holes that the team would look to fill now? Thanks for all of your hard work!
Eric, Springville, UT

Answer: Well, remember that Bryant Johnson only signed a one-year deal, so he could be a one-and-done guy. Others whose contracts end in March 2009 are Eric Heitmann, Tony Wragge and Ronald Fields.
- Matt

Question: How similar is Martz's offensive system to the one that Alex Smith ran under Urban Meyer at Utah?
Justin, Manteca

Answer: It’s similar in that it uses a lot of receivers and exposes the quarterback to a lot of hits. But as far as the verbiage, it’s more similar to Norv Turner’s. I think the biggest challenge for Smith and Shaun Hill will be learning new mechanics.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, Love the job you are doing. With all of the questions about whom T. Spikes will sign with, I was wondering about J. Trotter as a possibility for the Ted position. He is old and slow in coverage, but he is great at eating up blockers and is an intense leader. What do you think?
Andy, Sacramento

Answer: The 49ers have passed on Trotter when he was available in the past, so I don’t think they’re interested. But I probably would have said the same thing about Spikes before I learned he was visiting with the 49ers …
- Matt

April 4, 2008
Groves to visit with 49ers

Quentin Groves, the defensive end-turned-linebacker from Auburn, will pay the 49ers a pre-draft visit one week from today, according to his agent. The 49ers are believed to be eying Groves for the Will linebacker spot that primarily provides the pass rush in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense. Several 49ers evaluators, including GM Scot McCloughan, attended Groves’ pro-day workout at Auburn last month. Of course, with more and more teams playing a 3-4 these days, the 49ers aren’t the only team interested. Groves will visit nine teams in the coming weeks: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Miami, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York Giants, New York Jets and New England Patriots.

Groves tied the career sack record at Auburn last season despite battling injuries (dislocated toes) and finishing with only three sacks in 2007. He’s intriguing to 3-4 teams like the 49ers because of his size-speed combination. At 255 or so pounds, he ran the 40 in an impressive 4.57 seconds at February’s combine. And perhaps even more eye-catching than that, he hoisted 225 pounds 30 times. That was one of the top showings for defensive ends, and the very best mark for linebackers.

In the mock drafts I have seen, Groves goes anywhere from the mid first round to the very end of the second. That makes me think that there are varying opinions of him from the teams around the league, which likely stems from his injury-marked senior season. Here is some additional information supplied by Groves’ agent (which explains why it’s so gushing):

* Quentin Groves graduated from Auburn University as one of the top defensive players to ever play for the program. Quentin is an exceptional athlete and versatile player, which he displayed by playing both defensive end and linebacker during senior season at Auburn. Quentin was voted to the 1st team All SEC two years in a row and he holds the title for the most sacks in Auburn history.

* Quentin was forced to grow up fast in rural Greenville, Mississippi. His father was not involved in his life growing up as he was raised by his mother who was often dealing with her own personal issues. At a young age he learned to be self sufficient which motivated him to work hard at athletics. Quentin found football not only as an outlet for all of his energy, but also a sanctuary where he could forget about all of the other issues in his life and focus on the game he loved.

* During his college career at Auburn, Quentin matured faster than most of his teammates. Unlike almost every player in this year’s NFL Draft, Quentin has been married for almost two years to a former Auburn track star. His wife, Treska, supports him fully in his endeavor in the NFL. She is his biggest fan, but also his toughest critic. Treska has continued to motivate Quentin throughout the process of training for the NFL Combine and Auburn Pro Day.

* After the Peach Bowl, they moved to Atlanta where Quentin trained with fellow Auburn Defensive Lineman Pat Sims. He also trained with Tony Villani of XPE Sports in Roswell, Georgia for all his athletic drills in preparation for the Combine. Chuck Smith, the former Defensive End of the Atlanta Falcons, trained Quentin for the position drills and prepared him to be a better pass rusher at the next level. Smith worked with him on improving his moves and technique to complement his natural speed.

-- Matt Barrows

April 3, 2008
Looking for Moore at outside linebacker

Heading into the 2008 season, Jay Moore is an unknown quantity at a critical position. The 49ers didn’t get much production – especially pass-rushing production – from their outside linebackers last season and many believe they must take an outside linebacker (QG?) with one of their first picks in the draft. I caught up with Moore today after he finished his morning workouts and found out three big things happened to him this offseason: He got married, he fully recovered from a vicious high-ankle sprain and he lost a little weight. If you’ll remember, Moore showed up last season at 272 pounds after playing defensive end at Nebraska. Right now he’s a 259-pound outside linebacker.

jay.jpg jaymoore.jpg

Moore said his primary focus this offseason has been getting leaner and quicker. He says he feels comfortable with his weight, which he remembers was painfully hard to pile on while in college. “Back then you would have protein shakes, an extra burger – anything to add weight,” he said. “I made myself eat as much as I could. It’s a lot easier now. It’s not as stressful. Now I can eat like a normal person.”

Moore’s rookie season ended when he suffered a high-ankle sprain in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. The term “high-ankle sprain” sounds innocuous, but Moore says he suffered ligament, cartilage and even bone damage, and that doctors told him he would have been better off breaking his ankle. He didn’t start running until Week 12 and didn’t really test it out – making cuts, change of direction – until the offseason. It’s back to normal now, and Moore has been participating fully in the team’s offseason program.

So what will be Moore’s role in 2008? It’s hard to say at this point. He started out last season playing the Sam linebacker position behind Manny Lawson and figures he’ll begin the May minicamp in the same spot. But the 49ers want all of their outside linebackers to be able to play both the Sam and Will (rush) positions. Not only would that make their chameleon defense less prone to injuries, it would keep opposing offenses on their toes. So if the new, slimmed down Moore shows the pass-rush burst the 49ers have been missing – who knows – maybe he’ll appear opposite Lawson instead of behind Lawson.

******
By the way, I talked with Moore about another Nebraska guy, OT Carl Nicks. Here’s what Moore had to say: “He’s a good player. Out of all the tackles there, he’s the one that gave me the biggest fits…. He’s pretty athletic for a big guy.” Moore said that after he was drafted by the 49ers, he went to Nicks to ask him about Northern California. Moore is a lifelong Nebraska native. Nicks is from Salinas.

Moore also agreed that Nicks’ run-in with Lincoln police in early March probably wasn’t a big deal. Nicks was ticketed and cited for “failure to disperse” after police broke up a party he was attending. Incoming coach Bo Pelini later banned Nicks from Nebraska’s Pro Day.

******
When I lived in Sacramento, I used to play football with Bee colleague Ed Fletcher every Sunday morning in Land Park. Oh, how the times have changed. Apparently, Ed has hung up his cleats in favor of leg warmers. In case you didn't catch it earlier, here's "Flashdance" Fletcher as he struts his stuff alongside hundreds of would-be Gold Rush dancers at the weekend’s cheerleading tryouts at Stanford.

-- Matt Barrows

April 3, 2008
Preseason schedule: Bears, oh my!

The 49ers' preseason schedule was released, and wouldn't you know it, they play the hated Chicago Bears in Chicago in the critical third game of the preseason. That game will be televised nationally on Fox. (Dates for the first two games have yet to be announced).

Here's the full sked:

Week 1
@ Oakland
CBS-5
KNBR 1050/107.7 the Bone

Week 2
vs. Green Bay
CBS-5
KNBR 1050/107.7 the Bone

Week 3 – Aug. 21
@ Chicago
FOX
KNBR 1050/107.7 the Bone

Week 4 – Aug. 29
vs. San Diego
CBS-5
KNBR 1050/107.7 the Bone

****
You think making an NFL team is tough? How about making an NFL cheerleading squad? Bee colleagues Ed Fletcher and Manny Crisostomo attended the Gold Rush tryouts this past weekend and got an up-close look at the process. Ed even busted out a few moves. Thank God he didn't wear Spandex. Click here for the story and here for the video.

-- Matt Barrows

April 2, 2008
First-round receiver? Nah, we'll pass

Will it be Devin Thomas, Mario Manningham or Limas Sweed? Early Doucet or Malcolm Kelly? DeShaun Jackson or James Hardy? Which of these receivers will the 49ers take at pick No. 29? My guess – none of them. Despite a big need for a future No. 1 receiver, I don’t think the 49ers will try to find one in the first round, and here’s why:

Top-tier receivers are historically hard to find, especially if you don’t have a Top 10 pick. There have been 43 receivers taken in the first round in the last 10 drafts. Of those, nine have been to a Pro Bowl. Of those nine, only two – Javon Walker in 2002 and Reggie Wayne in 2001 – weren’t selected in the first 10 picks. Walker was selected No. 20 overall; Wayne went No. 30 overall.

hardy.jpg mario.jpg limas.jpg malcolm.jpg

Well, what about Mike Martz? Doesn’t he want better receivers at his disposal? Well, sure. But my sense is that he’d rather have another bookend offensive tackle and will say as much if the personnel staff asks him. Two of Martz’s best receivers over the years have been Torry Holt (no. 6 overall in 1999) and Roy Williams (no. 7 in 2004). But he’s also had great success with Isaac Bruce (2nd round 1994), Mike Furrey (undrafted 2000), Kevin Curtis (3rd round 2003) and Shaun McDonald (4th round 2003).

The point is that Martz can find a productive receiver just about anywhere in the draft. And this draft is teeming with solid mid-round prospects. Heading into the Senior Bowl, for example, Adarius Bowman, Doucet and Sweed were the three big names. The players who came up biggest during practice and in the game, however, were Lavelle Hawkins, Andre Caldwell and Harry Douglas. There’s also Eddie Royal, Earl Bennett, Josh Morgan, Dexter Jackson, Donnie Avery, Jordy Nelson … the list goes on.

Here’s another reason: Koren Robinson. He was a Scot McCloughan guy with the Seattle Seahawks in 2001. Robinson should have been great – he had size, speed, good hands, excellent college production. But he had some troubling off-the-field issues involving alcohol, and that’s what sunk Robinson’s career. Robinson came out of NC State as a junior and McCloughan and the Seahawks simply didn’t know enough about him. That experience has made McCloughan wary of juniors in general (one of the reasons the 49ers are heavy on Senior Bowl alums) and wary of junior receivers in particular. Thomas, Kelly, Jackson, Manningham and Hardy all are juniors. Sweed and Doucet are seniors who struggled through injuries in their final season.

****
Great news! Gerry Austin is one of two NFL referees who will be retiring. The other is Larry Nemmers. Niner fans, of course, will remember Austin for the head-scratching explanation in Pittsburgh last season involving Vernon Davis and Troy Polamalu that all but halted the 49ers’ second-half momentum. ESPN’s Mike Sando, who is to stats what Michaelangelo was to paint (and who used to be a newspaper guy before being tempted by the Dark Side), writes that Austin suffered a league-high 13 replay reversals in 2007. And that’s not a good stat. So in addition to being wrong (a lot), Austin committed what I consider the cardinal sin -- slowing down the game.

-- Matt Barrows

April 1, 2008
NFL doesn't forget Parys

The NFL announced some of the top earners of its performance-based-pay system, and linebacker Parys Haralson made the list at No. 25 with a $226,221 bonus. The top earner was Pittsburgh tackle Willie Colon, who earned $309,534 in additional pay.

The system was designed to award overachievers – players who make a comparatively small amount of dough but who play a lot of minutes. To arrive at an amount, a player’s regular-season play time (For Haralson, defense and special teams) is divided by his adjusted regular-season compensation (full season salary, prorated portion of signing bonus, earned incentives). That number is then compared to those of the other players on his team to determine the amount of his pay. (In other words, it’s complicated).

Haralson was a fifth-round draft choice in 2006 who missed most of his rookie season when he went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Haralson began the 2007 season slowly but started to come on strong at midseason and got plenty of playing time at outside linebacker. He started 11 games, finished with 42 tackles and had 2 ½ sacks.

Unless the 49ers tap an outside linebacker (Quentin Groves) early in the draft, some observers believe Haralson will wrestle away a starting job from Tully Banta-Cain. Haralson certainly showed improving pass-rush skills and he has a big supporter in GM Scot McCloughan. But don’t count Banta-Cain out just yet. I know I haven’t been an ardent TBC supporter, but I was watching NFL Network the other day and saw Banta-Cain in the AFC Championship game in which the Patriots lost to the Colts. I’ll be damned if TBC wasn’t in Peyton Manning’s grill throughout the second half of that game. I’m talking just about every single pass play! Banta-Cain was running over blockers, throwing them to the ground. He was unstoppable! Of course, the Colts chose to block TBC sometimes with a tight end, sometimes with a running back. And toward the end of the game, they had the left guard pop out and try to block him with minimal success. It just goes to show how important the surrounding cast is to a pass rusher’s success. TBC suffered as much as anyone when Manny Lawson tore a knee ligament last year. We (read: me) probably should reserve judgment until everyone is healthy.

****

Speaking of NFL Network … I got caught up yesterday watching the replay of that roller-coaster 49ers-Giants playoff game from January 2003. Holy crud, that was an intense game! A couple of mental notes I made while watching:

· By my count, there are only four 49ers that day who are still in a San Francisco uniform: Jeff Ulbrich, Brandon Moore, Eric Heitmann and Brian Jennings. That’s astounding to me. Yes, the game was played more than five years ago but it’s not as if all those players are out of the league. Terrell Owens (unstoppable that game), Jeff Garcia, Eric Johnson, Julian Peterson, Andre Carter, John Engelberger and Derek Smith are still in the league. The Giants turnover seems to be just as dramatic. I saw Michael Strahan, Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer but few others I recognized from this year’s Super Bowl team. It just proves the old adage about what NFL stand for: not for long.

· Owens, Garcia and Peterson all stood out in that game. Funny that five years later the 49ers are still looking for 1.) a quarterback. 2.) a dominant wide receiver 3.) a three-down outside linebacker. I realize that keeping all three would have been tough. But saying goodbye to all three? Hindsight can be very cruel.

· That was the first 49ers game I ever covered. (Little did I know it would be the last playoff game!) This is documented in the clip below. After the Giants intercept a two-point conversion attempt, there’s an Owens-involved tussle on the sideline. I remember those players spilling onto my feet. See the little guy in the burgundy shirt with the thinning hair? That’s me (at 3:23) trying to maintain law and order.

-- 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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