Question: Can you update us on some former 49ers? Have these guys found work - Corey Smith, Terry Jackson, etc. (The cut-down group)? What have your beat-writer friends in other cities told you about Mike Rumph, Kevan Barlow, Andre Carter, Julian Peterson (trades and FA group)? Just curious how they are all performing, and if some have found work. I do think the loss of TJ has really hurt our coverage unit.
-- Lebowski, Los Angeles
Answer: Hi Lebowski. Jackson lost his spot on the team because the 49ers decided to keep two pure fullbacks, Chris Hetherington and Moran Norris. What must be frustrating for Jackson (and for Hetherington and Norris) is that only one fullback is active for the game. In other words, the 49ers would have gotten more bang for their buck had they kept one of the fullbacks and Jackson, a special teams ace. I think Keith Lewis is a good replacement (did you see him single-handedly take on half the Chiefs punt unit and still tackle Donte Hall last week?), but that the coverage teams would be that much better if both he and Jackson were on them. At age 30, however, I don't expect him to get picked up by another team.
Smith also is looking for a job. That he didn't make a 49ers squad in desperate need of a pass-rushing linebacker probably was a signal to other teams that he wasn't worth their time.
Meanwhile, Rumph is a starter in Washington, but only until Shawn Springs returns from injury. Andre Carter has one sack for the Skins and Brandon Lloyd has six catches for 75 yards. None of those players have set the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but Washington typically plays better in the second half of the season. We'll see.
Predictably, the best former 49er has been Julian Peterson. He's got two sacks and is third on the team in tackles. Wouldn't he have paired well with Manny Lawson?
The biggest surprise? Barlow, who has and low-low 2.9-yards-per-carry average but who has scored four short-yardage TDs. Hear that, Frank Gore?
Question: Matt, what the hell is going on with the 49er defense? I can't even begin to think which area on the defense is in the most need because they all are inconsistent and terrible for so-called professionals. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing a 49er defense this bad. At times I have liked the direction that the 49ers are headed under Mike Nolan, however, the honeymoon is over and it's time to call it like it is because this defense has regressed, not progressed. What are the current and future plans to better this defense in 49er land? Thanks.
Answer: Don't worry. D-coordinator Bill Davis "promises" the unit will shape up soon. Funny, I remember hearing the same thing last year...
The short answer is that there's not much the team can do in the short term aside from trading for Albert "Van Damm" Haynesworth. The bottom line is that the 49ers have decided that their first priority is upgrading the offense as shown by their last two drafts. The thinking is that a quarterback and offensive line take longer to jell and that a quality defense can be put together more quickly. Look for the team to use the bulk of its 2007 draft picks on defensive players. The upcoming draft is thought to be particularly deep in defensive linemen.
-- Matt Barrows