Question: As a longtime 49er fan (35 years), I have been waiting for them to build another championship team the way they did in the early 80's, through the draft. I feel they are on the right track with the last two drafts yielding fast, aggressive, good character players. But to get to the next level, I think they need a fast, aggressive middle linebacker (Ray Lewis type), another good cover corner and a playmaking (without the attitude) receiver. I think Derek Smith and Walt Harris have done a good job, but they are getting old. What do you think?
- Kevin, Sacramento
Answer: Hi Kevin. One of the things 49ers fans should feel good about is personnel director Scot McCloughan. He's not only the guy who compiles the team's draft list, he's also in charge of scouting other team's free agents. Seems to me, he's done just as good a job in the free agency market (Walt Harris, Larry Allen, etc.) as he has in the drafting department (Frank Gore, Adam Snyder, etc.)
I think a fast, aggressive linebacker would be a nice addition (Adalius Thomas and Lance Briggs are two possibilities) but the 49ers might concentrate on the defensive line and secondary as well. The team's depth at cornerback was exposed when Shawntae Spencer was nicked for three weeks. Good cornerbacks also would allow safety Keith Lewis to play to his strength, which is crowding the line of scrimmage and taking out ball carriers. That's what he did against Seattle Thursday, the second strong tackling performance in a row for him. As for the defensive line, the team only has a handful of players - Ronnie Fields, Melvin Oliver and Marques Douglas - that figure strongly in their future. Bryant Young is in the final year of his contract, although when you look at how he's been playing of late it's hard to imagine him not coming back for at least one more season.
As for Smith and Harris, they are definitely growing older (who isn't?), but I don't think they need to be replaced. Don't forget, Smith was affected by an eye injury that probably was a lot more debilitating than the stoic linebacker ever let on. That should be taken care of in the offseason. As for Harris, he's having the best season of his career. The Redskins look like fools for letting him walk in the offseason, and if Pro Bowl voters knew what they were doing, they'd send him to Hawaii for the first time in his career.
- Matt Barrows