49ers Blog and Q&A

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

April 29, 2007
Final thoughts

The draft is over and my typing fingers are still working fine, so here are my final thoughts:

I think the 49ers had a fantastic draft from the standpoint of adding exciting players - Patrick Willis, Jason Hill and Ray McDonald chief among them - but those last two picks leave an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Why, with all the current scrutiny on character issues, would the 49ers go after two players who were arrested in college?

Nolan said there's a difference between bad character and making bad choices. I guess I'm still grappling with what that difference is. It seems to me every bad seed in the NFL can claim to have made bad choices. That's what people with bad character do. Still, if Tarrell Brown and Thomas Clayton stay out of trouble, the issues they had in college soon will be forgotten.

Best pick? It's three years too early to say, but Willis and Hill would be my guesses. Willis has the combination of speed and instincts to make tackles three yards behind the line of scrimmage, not five yards beyond it, which was the 49ers' problem last season. As for Hill, you could almost feel his excitement through the phone line Saturday. This guy badly wanted to play in San Francisco and now he gets his wish.

Leaguewide, I was surprised how far a lot of people's first-round choice for the 49ers, Alan Branch, fell. The Cardinals ended up taking him with the first pick in the second round. Arizona, in fact, got a lot of big-name players, including tackle Levi Brown, linebacker Buster Davis and Michigan receiver Steve Breaston. It only bolsters the opinion that they will be a team to be reckoned with in the NFC West.

Other surprises included a couple of Bay Area players I followed at the combine, receiver James Jones of San Jose State and linebacker Michael Okwo of Stanford. When I spoke to scouts about these guys, they said both would be Day 2 picks and that Jones could go undrafted. That's not how it turned out. Jones was picked by Green Bay two slots after Hill in the third round while Okwo also went in the third round to Chicago. Maybe he's Lance Briggs' replacement.

- Matt Barrows

April 29, 2007
Another curious selection

Tarrell Brown might have been arrested on drug and weapons charges, but he might not be the 49ers' biggest character risk in the draft.

The team completed its 2007 draft class with Kansas State running back Thomas Clayton who was charged with misdemeanor battery in 2005. According to the school paper, Clayton was arrested after nearly striking a parking official who was attempting to put a wheel lock on Clayton's car because of unpaid parking tickets. He drove off and later was arrested at the university football complex. He was suspended twice in 2005 for violating team rules.

Clayton, who is a second cousin of former 49er Julian Peterson, said in a conference call that he had learned from the incident.

"I went through a little situation my junior year and looking back on it I know it was a mistake," Clayton said.

Clayton also reportedly ran afoul of the Kansas State coaching staff his senior season. He did not have a carry after Sept. 30 and did not travel with the team to Kansas State's Texas Bowl game.

Like Brown, Clayton visited with 49ers coaches in Santa Clara weeks before the draft. What's interesting is that neither he nor Brown was included on a list of player visits released to the media.

Things that make you go "hmmm."

- Matt Barrows

April 29, 2007
Was this a gamble pick?

Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan must have fielded two dozen questions about character during the team's predraft luncheon two weeks ago. Given Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent suspension of Adam "Pacman" Jones and Chris Henry for headline-grabbing transgressions, it was the topic du jour.

The first time he was asked about character, Nolan answered like this: "If you've got bad character, we will not draft you. I don't even question that. If you've made a bad choice or two, it's our decision that we have to make in identifying that person and if it's a choice issue or is it a character issue."

That was his reasoning for drafting Texas cornerback Tarrell Brown in the fifth round Sunday. Brown was arrested in September on suspicion of misdemeanor weapons and drug charges after police pulled over the car he was riding in and found a small amount of marijuana in the car and a 9 mm handgun in his lap.

The 49ers certainly did their due diligence before drafting Brown, who, had it not been for character concerns, probably would have been a first-day choice. Along with the usual background checks, the team flew Brown to Santa Clara a few weeks before the draft to meet with Nolan and the 49ers sent a team official his way days before the draft.

Nolan said his conversation with Brown gave him a good feeling.

"I see him as a good character person who made a couple of poor choices," Nolan said, adding the 49ers have the requisite staff in place to help players make the best choices.

On a conference call, Brown said the stories that have been written about him did not paint an accurate picture of him.

"Coach Nolan is big on character and everything like that," Brown said. "Everything will take care of itself and it won't be a problem."

Brown also said the September charges have been resolved but declined to speak about what happened that night.

"I can't really speak on it," he said. "That's in the past and I'm just happy I'm a San Francisco 49er."

- Matt Barrows

April 29, 2007
Going big in the fourth

The 49ers spent the fourth-round Sunday adding size and depth to their defense.

Their first pick in the round, Jay Moore, played defensive end at Nebraska last season, recording six sacks for the Cornhuskers. He also stood out in Senior Bowl for the North squad with two sacks, both coming against the 49ers' first-round draft pick, tackle Joe Staley.

"Me and Joe, we had some battles that week, " Moore said in a conference call from his Omaha home.

Moore said he currently weighs 273 pounds, but probably will need to drop 10 pounds or so as he moves to linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme. Moore said he had plenty of experience dropping into coverage at Nebraska and believes he'll be able to handle the position change.

The 49ers again went for size with their second pick in the fourth round. Dashon Goldson played cornerback last season for the Washington Huskies, but at 6-2, 208 pounds might be a better fit at safety.

Their last pick in the draft, Florida's Joe Cohen, figures to see time behind Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle. The 315-pound Cohen said he was good friends with 49ers' third-round pick Ray McDonald. Cohen said he came to Florida as an offensive linemen, and McDonald helped him make the transition to defense.

"He just coached me up on pass moves, how to handle opponents," said Cohen, who phoned McDonald minutes after the 49ers called him Sunday.
--Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
49ers end day with a Gator

The 49ers’ third-round Saturday was similar to the one they had two years ago. They ended it by taking Ray McDonald, the Florida defensive tackle, with the 97th pick.

Many teams had McDonald as one of their top-rated linemen, but were scared away because of medical concerns. McDonald, who stands 6-3 and weighs 285 pounds, has had problems with both of his knees and twice has had surgery on his left anterior cruciate ligament.

Of course, a lot of teams were scared away from Frank Gore in 2005 for the same reason and it turns out his knees have held up pretty well. The 49ers had McDonald in town a few weeks ago in part to examine those knees. They still have concerns – more than they had with Gore – but coach Mike Nolan said he felt better knowing that McDonald was still very effective last year for the national champion Gators.

He said McDonald had the rare combination of quickness and power to play either of the defensive end positions in the 3-4 scheme and at the very least ought to provide good depth in the upcoming season. McDonald said he was used to a "two-gap" scheme and didn’t mind doing the dirty work required of a 3-4 defensive end.

"That’s me. That’s me all day," he said. "I don’t mind doing that."

If McDonald can overcome his injuries the way Gore has, it seems like an impressive 49ers draft indeed. The one black mark appeared to be the loss of their 2008 draft pick. But they got a first rounder back when they traded their second-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts.

As of now, the 49ers have six picks Sunday, but it could drop to five if the Seahawks accept the trade terms for receiver Darrell Jackson. Seattle’s best receiver last season passed a physical in Santa Clara Saturday and he and his wife were spending the night in the Bay Area. The 49ers have offered one of their four fourth-round picks for Jackson.

"He was real excited to be here and it seemed like he had plans to be here," said Nolan who met briefly with Jackson Saturday. Nolan characterized the 49ers’ chances at landing Jackson as "50-50."

Will they get him? Tune in tomorrow to find out …

I'll be blogging again after every pick -- and after any trades, so check back often.
-- Matt Barrows.

April 28, 2007
Hill stays in San Francisco

One thing you can say about Jason Hill, he’s not lacking for confidence. Hill, who went to Sacred Heart Cathedral High in San Francisco, was ecstatic that his hometown team drafted him in the third round.

But he wishes he had gone a little sooner. Watching all the other receivers drafted ahead of him – and listening to draft gurus like NFL Network’s Mike Mayock say he was too slow – will provide plenty of motivation for the upcoming season, he said.

"He’s a hater. He hates. That’s what he does," Hill said of Mayock. "You can ask any defensive back I played against how fast I am. You don’t score 32 touchdowns in the Pac 10 not playing fast."

It was hard to hear Hill over the din behind him. He threw a party at the San Francisco Ramada that erupted when they learned the guest of honor had been drafted by the 49ers.

Hill gained than 1,000 receiving yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons at Washington State, but trailed off last season when he was bothered by ankle and shoulder injuries. Critics said Hill didn’t have the speed to separate from defensive backs, but he ran a blazing 40-yard dash at the February combine, the second fastest of any receiver.

--Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
Is this the round for a receiver?

Dwayne Bowe is off the board. So is Robert Meachem, Dwayne Jarrett, Craig Davis and Sidney Rice. So, nervous 49ers fans are starting to ask, when is our team going to take a wide receiver?

Mike Nolan thinks it’s still going to happen. After picking Joe Staley in the first round, Nolan noted that this draft not only is deep in receivers, it has a lot of the big-bodied receivers the 49ers prefer.

"This is the year of the measurable wide receiver – height, weight, speed – the big guy," he said. "There are not a bunch of mighty mites out there. … There are several of those guys and we’ll see how it goes."

Some wideouts the team could still take in the third round include Jason Hill out of Washington State, Jacoby Jones of Lane College and Paul Williams of Fresno State.
--Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
49ers keep No. 1 priority

It seemed funny when Mike Nolan traded away next year's no. 1 pick to the New England Patriots for an offensive tackle. Now it all makes sense.

The 49ers just traded their second-round pick - no. 42 overall - to the Indianapolis Colts for the Colts' first-round pick next year and their fourth-round pick, no. 126 overall, this year.

That means the 49ers once again have four picks in the fourth round and their first-rounder next season. It looks like a good move now, and it could be even more fanastic if the 49ers finish ahead of the defending Super Bowl champs in the stands next season. That's a big if...

- Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
49ers trade for OL Staley

That the 49ers traded back into the first round wasn’t much of a surprise. That they did so by giving up their first-round pick in next year’s draft as well as a fourth rounder this year – well, it’s about the most shocking thing Mike Nolan has done in three years on draft day.

Even Joe Staley, the Central Michigan tackle the 49ers picked 28th overall, was caught off guard.

"After the Senior Bowl (offensive line coach) George Warhop came up to me and said, 'You did a great job at the Senior Bowl. We love you.' And that was about it," said Staley who thought the Giants, Chiefs or Ravens would be calling.

Nolan explained later that the team had 20 players with first-round grades and hoped to get two of them with their first- and second-round picks. When Staley was the only one of those 20 left, the 49ers decided to go up and get him.

"The one thing I’ve said since I’ve been here is that we’re always going to strengthen the offensive line," Nolan said. "That will never change as long as I’m here."

When Warhop called Staley Saturday, he told him to work on his right-hand stance. That’s a signal that Staley will be expected to compete with incumbent right tackle Kwame Harris, whose pass-protection problems are well chronicled. Harris, drafted 26th overall in 2003, is in the final year of his contract and the 49ers have made little effort to re-sign him.

Staley likely will get his first repetitions at left tackle during the team’s upcoming minicamp. The starter at the position, Jonas Jennings, is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery but should be back for training camp in late July.

Staley, meanwhile, went to Central Michigan as a 230-pond tight end. The coaching staff, however, wanted athletic offensive linemen and encouraged Staley to gain weight. Three and a half years later, he weighs 305 pounds but figures his 6-6 frame can carry as much as 315 pounds.

--Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
These picks didn't go up in smoke

Given that each player's character was going to be scrutinized in this NFL draft, maybe honesty is the best policy after all.

Case in point: three high-profile players who admitted during the NFL Combine in February that they had smoked marijuana were among the first 10 picks. Calvin Johnson, wide receiver from Georgia Tech, was chosen No. 2 by Detroit. Gaines Adams, defensive end from Clemson, went to Tampa Bay at No. 4 and Amobi Okoye, the 19-year-old defensive tackle from Louisville, was taken No. 10 by Houston.

The unforunate part of their disclosure was that it was supposed to have been given in confidence to team representatives gathered in Indianapolis to observe and interview draft prospects. Instead, the information was leaked - intentionally perhaps by teams that had an interest in the trio and were trying to discourage rivals from drafting them.

Who knows? Anyway, commissioner Roger Goodell, who is cracking down on NFL misbehavior after a wave of lawless incidents last year, apologized to the three for the leak. In turn, Johnson, Adams and Okoye earned appreciation from teams for being so forthright about using marijuana. It wasn't something that was discovered independently and they had to be confronted with later. What's more, they apparently were convincing enough in their interviews in conveying they had no serious drug problem.

Deeper in the first-round selections Saturday, one player who was identifed as a potential draft risk, safety Brandon Meriweather from Miami, was chosen at No. 24 by New England. Meriweather's college background includes firing a handgun last summer, trying to protect a teammate from an assailant. He was not charged in the incident because he had a permit to carry a gun and it was proven he acted in self defense. There also was Meriweather's one-game suspension three months later for his part in an ugly brawl during a home game last season against Florida International.

You have to figure that the Patriots must have done their homework before selecting Meriweather because we can think of no stricter, no-nonsense taskmaster among coaches than Bill Belichick. Nevertheless, the pick turned some heads and bears watching.

--Jim Jenkins

April 28, 2007
Brady becomes a Brown

Finally, the Brady Quinn soap opera ends.

The Cleveland Browns, who were projected to take the Notre Dame quarterback with the third overall pick in the draft but instead opted for the best offensive lineman on the board, Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas, picked up Quinn anyway by swinging a trade with Dallas for the Cowboys' turn at No. 22.

Nice rescue for a collegiate star who had been a lifelong fan of the Browns, to now have a chance to play for them, when it appeared for awhile that no team had much interest in him -- at least not in the first round.

The price of this trade seems pretty steep, though. The Cowboys end up with Cleveland's second-round pick today, No. 36 overall, and the Browns' first-round pick in 2008. Would it be a stretch to think that perhaps the Browns could have waited until the second round and gotten him anyway? And unless the Browns make a dramatic turnaround, that 2008 first-round choice could be a high one.

So, a sweet deal for Dallas, it says here, and somethng of an ego-deflater for Quinn, who must have wondered why he chose to go to draft headquarters in New York and be exposed to all that camera-closeup embarrassment.

A Raiders executive told me last week that when Quinn came through Alameda for a visit, soon to be followed by LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, their ultimate pick, the Notre Damer "had a pretty cocky attitude. If that was about confidence, I guess it's OK, but compared to Russell, who had a quieter confidence about him, his personality kind of surprised us a little bit."
-- Jim Jenkins

April 28, 2007
The World Wide Sports Bully

Funny development at 49ers’ headquarters:

The local media was three questions into their conference call with Patrick Willis when an obviously distracted Willis said he had to go because ESPN wanted to interview him.

To his credit, the 49ers’ PR staffer who was present politely asked Willis to tell ESPN to wait and to finish the interview with the local writers. At this point, an ESPN producer got on the phone and said that Willis had to hang up.

It should be noted that there is no love loss between local media outlets and ESPN. We see them as the bullies on the block who like to throw their weight around, and who often poach stories from the smaller outlets and pawn them off as their own.

So when the ESPN producer cut into the interview, he was shouted down by the dozen or so of us on the other end. The most vociferous was the 49ers’ web director who tore into the guy from ESPN like a bulldog on a steak, explaining to him in plain terms that ESPN would get to interview Willis when his current interview was over. It was great.

So the interview continued uninterrupted for five minutes or so until everyone here had asked their question. ESPN was forced to wait patiently – just as they should have in the first place.

-- Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
The World Wide Sports Bully

Funny development at 49ers’ headquarters:

The local media was three questions into their conference call with Patrick Willis when an obviously distracted Willis said he had to go because ESPN wanted to interview him.

To his credit, the 49ers’ PR staffer who was present politely asked Willis to tell ESPN to wait and to finish the interview with the local writers. At this point, an ESPN producer got on the phone and said that Willis had to hang up.

It should be noted that there is no love loss between local media outlets and ESPN. We see them as the bullies on the block who like to throw their weight around, and who often poach stories from the smaller outlets and pawn them off as their own.

So when the ESPN producer cut into the interview, he was shouted down by the dozen or so of us on the other end. The most vociferous was the 49ers’ web director who tore into the guy from ESPN like a bulldog on a steak, explaining to him in plain terms that ESPN would get to interview Willis when his current interview was over. It was great.

So the interview continued uninterrupted for five minutes or so until everyone here had asked their question. ESPN was forced to wait patiently – just as they should have in the first place.

-- Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
A Ray of light for the 49ers?

The 49ers threw a draft-day party at the Santa Clara Convention Center Saturday and it was hopping when Mike Nolan showed up to talk about the team’s first-round pick, linebacker Patrick Willis.

Nolan said Willis, the SEC’s defensive player of the year, will have an immediate impact in the team’s third-down package where he’ll line up next to fellow linebacker Manny Lawson and safety Michael Lewis. He’ll also get to compete for one of the team’s starting inside linebacker jobs against incumbent Derek Smith and back-up Jeff Ulbrich.

Both Smith and Ulbrich are long-time favorites of the coaching staff but have been slowed by injuries in recent seasons. If Willis wins a starting role, he likely would join Brandon Moore, Tully Banta-Cain and Lawson in the starting lineup.

Willis played in 4-3 defense at Mississippi but on a conference call said he was eager to learn his new role.

"I’m the type of player who’s confident he can learn different defenses," he said. "Just teach me how."

At the convention center party, someone in the crowd yelled out the name of Ray Lewis, whom Nolan coached in Baltimore. Nolan said that Willis and Lewis were different physically – Willis is smaller and faster – but said he hoped he would make a similar impact.

Said Nolan: "If three years from now we’re comparing him to Ray, that’s a good thing; that’s a great thing."
-- Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
Darrell Jackson may be a 49er soon

Mike Nolan said that Seahawks wide receiver Darrell Jackson was flying into Santa Clara with his wife today for a physical. The 49ers are offering one of their fourth-round draft choices for Jackson, who lead Seattle in receptions, receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns last season.

Nolan said that acquiring Jackson would not affect the rest of the draft. The 49ers are expected to take at least one receiver over the next day and a half.

April 28, 2007
Niners take Ole Miss' Willis


The 49ers chose Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis with the 11th pick in the draft.

The coaching staff was taken with Willis during the week of Senior Bowl practices in January. The speedy linebacker had more than 128 tackles in each of the last two seasons at Ole Miss and the team believes he will immediately upgrade the San Francisco linebacking corps.

Willis – who appropriately wore No. 49 for the Rebels -- likely would play the so-called “Mike” or left inside linebacker spot, a position veteran Jeff Ulbrich plays.

I’m heading over to the Santa Clara convention center to hear Mike Nolan talk about the pick. I’ll report back on what he says – and the team’s strategy from this point on – when I get back.

In the meantime, here are a few questions Willis answered in February at the scouting combine:

Q: People say you’re a two-down linebacker. Is that true?
A: I guess I’ll just let the facts speak for themselves. The last two years, injured or not injured, I’ve been out there every down. This season, I didn’t come off for one snap. For the most part I’m good enough at my pass defense.

Q: Are you an outside linebacker?
A: The first two years in college I played outside linebacker, covered some slot receivers. I’d say I’m confident in my abilities, but anything I need to do I’ll work on and do my best to get the job done.

Q: What was the Senior Bowl like?
A: I took the whole NFL perspective. Every day you’ve got to come out and work and do your best. Being coached by Mike Singletary was a little like coach O, you’re being coached by someone who tells you to be perfect at what you do.

Q: What is your family situation?
A: I have guardians. They didn’t adopt us, but they kind of took us in for five years. Because of some complications with my dad, my mom wasn’t around.

Q: Nothing come easy for you. Is it gratifying to get to this point?
A: All my life I’ve brought the attitude, to work and improve myself.
So stepping up to this level, I’m going to have to do the same thing, regardless of what background I came from or what division I played at. Once you’re in the NFL, everybody’s got something to prove. It doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you show up when it’s time.

Q: How do you assess your leadership skills?
A: I think my last two years I became more of a vocal leader. My first two years in college, I probably was trying to lead by example. Part of that was having great guys ahead of me like Eli (Manning) and some of the other guys. You had to show them you were ready to be on their side. I feel like I’m capable of being more vocal, but also leading by example at the next level.
-- Matt Barrows

April 28, 2007
Bird watching in Santa Clara

They're the lowly Cardinals. They haven't been to the playoffs since Millard Fillmore was President -- or so it seems. They're consistently the laughingstock of the NFL.

But the 49ers think those same Cardinals will be their biggest competition for NFC West supremacy in years to come, and Arizona's first-round draft pick is likely to bolster that impression.

The Cardinals chose Penn State left tackle Levi Brown. The thinking in Santa Clara is that Brown will be moved to the right side to protect quarterback Matt Leinart, who is left-handed. With Leinart, Edgerrin James, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona already is oozing with talent at their skill positions. Now they've begun to solidify the offensive line.

Will the 49ers counter by solidifying their defensive line? Stay tuned.

April 28, 2007
Not so fast on that trade

Mike Nolan sure isn’t shy about wheeling and dealing his draft picks. He traded away a couple in 2005 to get Adam Snyder at the end of the third round. And he did the same last year to nab Manny Lawson in the first.

Now Nolan and the 49ers are considering a deal with their division rivals, the Seahawks, that would send Seattle’s leading receiver, Darrell Jackson, to San Francisco.

ESPN reports that all it would take would be the 49ers’ third selection in the fourth round, No. 124 overall, which seems like a pretty sweet deal considering that Jackson had nearly 1,000 receiving yards last season and that the 49ers would still have three picks left in that round alone.

The 49ers, however, are preaching caution. They’re definitely talking with Seattle, they say, but there are other teams involved. And the compensation hasn’t been decided. And that, contrary to the ESPN report, Jackson is not scheduled for a physical this morning. Not yet anyway.

The teams would have to agree by Sunday morning when the fourth-round begins but the 49ers probably would want to know by Saturday whether they have a deal. Why? Because having Jackson on the roster might affect whether they target a receiver on the opening day of the draft.

As of now, there’s little depth behind starters Arnaz Battle and Ashley Lelie. The team had been expected to give LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe and Tennessee receiver Robert Meachem a close look in the first round.
--Matt Barrows

April 27, 2007
And now: The 49ers' mock draft

It’s now 20 hours before the draft. No more stalling. Time to face the music. Here are the 10 players I predict the 49ers will snag in tomorrow’s draft.

Before I begin, a little prefacing. I think that with 10 picks, the 49ers will try to trade up at least once. They feel there are 20 true first-round picks in the draft, and if they feel they will not get one of their remaining “first rounders” with the No. 42 pick, they’ll try to move up to get him.

Also before I begin, a little plugging. I’ll be blogging after every selection tomorrow - commenting on the selections and relaying Mike Nolan’s thoughts. There is also talk that the 49ers’ position coaches will show us video clips of each draft selection, so I’ll forward any observations from those sessions. In other words, I’ll be crippled by carpal tunnel by Sunday afternoon.

So without further ado, the 49ers 2007 draft class: (error margin +/- 100 percent)

First Round
No. 11. Adam Carriker, defensive end, Nebraska. The 49ers also would be happy with linebacker Patrick Willis, but another team sneaks ahead of them to grab the Ole Miss product. Carriker isn’t flashy. But he’s strong, durable and trouble free, and he ought to free up playmakers like Manny Lawson and Tully Banta Cain for years to come.

Second Round
No. 42. Jason Hill, wide receiver, Washington State. The 49ers need a receiver and this San Francisco product is the best of those still on the board. Hill has great hands and showed better-than-expected speed in the months leading up to the draft.

Third Round
No. 76. Mansfield Wrotto, guard, Georgia Tech. Wrotto’s backside can block out the sun and that’s just the type of guy Nolan wants on the interior of his offensive line. Wrotto started at Georgia Tech as a defensive lineman and still is learning how to play offensive line. Seems like an ideal replacement for Larry Allen, who is entering the final year of his contract.

No. 97. Kenneth Darby, running back, Alabama. The 49ers want to give Frank Gore more rest this season and Darby certainly could handle part of the load. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore and junior before before struggling - along with the rest of the ‘Bama offense - last season. A very capable back who’s also good at catching the ball out of the backfield.

Fourth Round
No.104. Paul Soliai, nose tackle, Utah. One of only three true nose tackles in the draft, Soliai will be the only one remaining at this point in the draft. The 49ers need depth at this position if they are to run a 3-4 this season.

No. 110. Brian Robison, linebacker, Texas. Robison played defensive end for the Longhorns, but is athletic enough to play outside linebacker in San Francisco. At the very least, he’ll be a standout special teams player.

No. 124. Courtney Brown, cornerback, Cal Poly. Just the type of big defensive back - 6-1, 205 lbs. - Nolan likes.

No. 135. Justin Durant, linebacker, Hampton. A poor man’s Patrick Willis. The 49ers target small-school products on the second day.

Fifth Round
No. 147. Jermon Bushrod, offensive tackle, Towson. A massive offensive lineman who shows good quickness for his size.

Sixth round
No. 186. James Jones, wide receiver, San Jose State. Really came on as a senior. Just the type of strong, physical wideout the 49ers like.

- Matt Barrows.

April 27, 2007
Draft questions keep coming

Question: You mentioned that Sopoaga will likely be tried out at D-End this summer. Is this something you have heard being tossed around by the 49ers, or is it just your feeling of the situation?
Berger, Reno

Answer: It’s my feeling of the situation. He’s entering the final year of his contract and thus far hasn’t made all that good an impression as an interior lineman. He could be like Igor Olshansky of the Chargers - a super-strong defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: With the draft approaching what should we be looking for? Also I heard that Denver wanted to trade up to number 10 for Adam Carriker. Would the Niners consider trading number 11 and moving back?
Scott, Elk Grove

Answer: If the 49ers feel they could get Dwayne Bowe or Robert Meachem with the Broncos’ selection, I think they’d move back. They would get a couple more picks in the process, making it more likely they could then trade back into the first round to select Justin Harrell or Ray McDonald.
--Matt Barrows


Question: Is it coincidence or destiny that Patrick Willis of Ole Miss wore number 49? The Niners will take Willis with the #11 pick and he will be the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. Coach Nolan's new 3-4 defense needs a playmaker at linebacker, number 49 from Ole Miss is the man. Remember you heard it here first! Your thoughts?
Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: He’s certainly a hot name right now. So hot, in fact, that there’s a lot of chatter that he will be snapped up before the 49ers get to pick. Remember that the Redskins, who pick sixth, are talking to the Bears about trading for Elk Grove’s Lance Briggs. If they can’t get the best linebacker in free agency, would they then select the best linebacker in the draft?
-- Matt Barrows

Question: What is up with the Patrick Willis rumors? Mel Kiper is now saying that this will be the 49ers’ pick. His name really only started getting serious mention in connection with the 49'ers in the last week. Is this all a smokescreen? I always hear that teams should never trust any rumors that come out in the week before the draft.
Mark, Lexington, Ky

Answer: Hard to say what is real and what is rumor. Last year, everyone thought the 49ers would take either A.J. Hawk or Vernon Davis. They took Davis, but would have been very happy with Hawk. This year, it’s either Carriker or Willis. And it makes sense. The 49ers got a good look at both players at the Senior Bowl. If both are available, it simply will come down to which they feel is the better player.
- Matt Barrows

April 26, 2007
More draft musings

Question: A month ago I kept hearing about Adam Carriker and Alan Branch right next to each other, neck-and-neck somewhere near the 49ers' pick. Now it's all about Branch. What happened to Carriker?

- Kameron, Roseville

Answer: It's more like 'What happened to Branch?' A month ago, he was a top-five selection. However, he has taken a tumble - in the mock drafts at least - to where the 49ers now have a shot at him. Carriker is still in the same spot. In fact, there's now speculation that if the Broncos and Texans swap first-rounders, Denver will nab Carriker with pick No. 10. Stay tuned, draft fans.

- Matt Barrows

Question: All right, Matt, with the draft just about here, how about a 49er mock draft. Ten picks. I'll give my opinion on what 10 positions I feel we need to add players and if you could give me 10 names and put them in order according to round picked I would be delighted. WR, D-end, DT, WR, RB, O-line, LB, O-line, WC, WC. (WC = wild card) player of your choice or pick traded. Thank you.

- Jason, Sacramento

Answer: Ha! You stole my thunder. I was going to do just that later in the week, although in a different order. I tell you what. How 'bout you guys do your own 49ers mock drafts - all 10 picks - and whoever gets the most right wins a prize, something along the lines of a SacBee T-shirt. If I win, it will be because of my superior 49ers knowledge. If one of you guys wins, it will be beginner's luck ...

- Matt Barrows

Question: I think with the 11th pick we should pick either Jamaal Anderson or Adam Carriker depending on who is available. With our second-round pick take David Harris, and with our first third-round pick get Jason Hill. What do you think of those three picks? Do they seem realistic? Also, I think we should add depth to the O-line in the third and fourth round. What do you think?

- Cesar, Arbuckle

Answer: Those are good picks, Cesar, although I don't think Hill would be around when the 49ers pick in Round 3. I agree entirely about adding o-line depth in those middle rounds. You can definitely find a starting-quality guard there.

- Matt Barrows

April 26, 2007
Sopoaga's issue is technique

Question: Isaac Sopoaga has not quite panned out yet as a 3-4 nose tackle - thus we got one via free agency. And he's also height/weight-wise built along the same lines as Anthony Adams, who we let go. From being around him up close, is Sopoaga, in your opinion, athletic and strong enough to make the slide out to defensive end?

- Sammy Moore Jr., Sacramento

Answer: Size and strength are not Sopoaga's issues. If he's not the strongest guy on the 49ers, then he is a close second behind Bryant Young. The problem is that he is too strong for his own good. He has been able to get away with using brute strength and hasn't mastered technique, much to the 49ers' frustration. I'm not sure if he's quick enough to play end in a 3-4 scheme, but the 49ers likely will test him out there in the preseason. If he does begin to master the position, he will be a handful for opposing linemen.

- Matt Barrows

April 24, 2007
What about Williams?

Question: Wide receiver keeps coming up as a position of need for the 49ers. But what are the team's plans for Brandon Williams, last year's third-round pick? Is he destined to be a backup and return specialist, or is he just in need of time and reps to break out and contribute?
-- Kevin, Pleasant Hill

Answer: The Brandon Williams story is an interesting one because it seems to run counter to what the 49ers keep telling us - they’ll draft the best player available regardless of position. They took Williams in the third round because Mike Nolan wasn’t confident in the punt returners on the team and Williams was the best one available at that point in the draft. In other words, it was a “need” pick. Williams is very secure with the ball and makes some good initial moves. However, he is not a burner like Devin Hester, and because of that he might find it difficult to break into the receiver rotation.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I know it’s early, but right now who do you anticipate starting on offense and defense? There are several key positions open: FS, RCB, SLB, NT, RDE and RT. Who do they have that can compete and which draft prospects will they look at to fill in areas of need?
-- Scott, Elk Grove

Answer: This is a total guess, but I would put Mark Roman at free safety, Marques Douglas at right defensive end (although Ronnie Fields might end up playing more snaps), Walt Harris at right cornerback, Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle and Adam Snyder at right tackle. That, of course, might change after the draft.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I've noticed you listed RB as one of the 49ers’ top needs. Was that before Gore was re-signed, or do you think we still need another? It is possible Gore could get hurt and drop the load on Maurice Hicks, who is a very solid backup. What's your reasoning?
-- Austin, Yreka

Answer: My reasoning is that I’m not sure Hicks could handle the load if Gore got hurt. He’s a good complimentary back, but his body historically hasn’t held up when he’s had a lot of carries.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, I think the 49ers re-signed Hannibal Navies, so that would give them 8 LBs going in. Great articles on the draft.
-- Mike, Rocklin

Answer: Absolutely correct. But because Navies is on the downslope of his career, and because the team signed him late last season, I’d suspect he’d be one of the first lbs cut if there were a numbers crunch at the position.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I believe the 49ers greatest needs are a defensive end and wide receiver. Last year the pass defense was terrible. A DB can only stay with a receiver so long. Therefore, I believe the greatest need this draft is a pass-rushing end. What do you think?
-- Walter, Woodland

Answer: I agree with that assessment, Walter, but remember that an end in a 3-4 defense really isn’t expected to get a lot of sacks. Instead they’re supposed to occupy blockers so that the outside linebackers - Manny Lawson, Tully Banta-Cain and Roderick Green -- get the sacks. Think Shawne Merriman of the Chargers or Terrell Suggs of the Ravens. Still, the 49ers don’t have a lot of ends on the team that can do that, and that’s why I think they’ll tap an end, Adam Carriker or Alan Branch, with the 11th pick in the draft.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: According to all these draft value sheets you have to give up the farm as well as your sister to move up into the top 5. What about the mid to high 20's? I believe the Ravens who pick 29 but do not have another first day selection as well as the Patriots who have 2 late first rounders would be perfect candidates for a trade. Keeping the 11th pick, what would it take to grab one of these 20 something picks if a)we include our second rounder and b)we do NOT include our second rounder?
-- Jason, Sacramento

Answer: Let’s use the Ravens' No. 29 pick (which, you’re right, is very plausible) as an example. If they used their second-round pick, they would only have to throw in their first third-rounder to make the deal even, according to the chart. Without the second rounder, they would have to include both third and all three fourths to satisy the chart.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey, with the 49ers needing another receiver, why don’t they go after Mike Williams from Detroit or Charles Rogers? I don’t believe both, specifically Mike Williams, got a fair shake and can be really good given the opportunity.
-- Tabrez, Elk Grove

Answer: Because neither of them can create separation with defensive backs. Asked about Rogers last season, Mike Nolan said the 49ers weren’t interested.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt, Saw your comments on WRs in the Sunday SacBee and the ones on WR Dwayne Jarrett struck a nerve with me. It's true his 40 speed is sub par compared to the other receivers in your article but Jerry Rice's 40 speed (4.6) was only marginally better than Dwyane's (4.67). Jerry was one of the most prolific college scorers in his day but so was Dwayne Jarrett. The reason 'separation' didn't apply to Jerry is because he was matched against linebackers. If Lelie is the deep threat Dwayne will be OK against linebackers. He is a playmaker!
-- Jim, Vacaville

Answer: Hi Jim. I’m not saying the 49ers don’t like Jarrett at all. All I’m saying is I don’t think they like him enough to be taken with the No. 11 pick. No 42 - now that’s an entirely different situation.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Personally, I feel that Calvin Johnson will be the biggest name to come out of this draft in the years to come. Having said that, how far down do you think he will slide, and is there any potential or interest in the 49ers organization to move up to get him?
-- Mike B., Citrus Heights

Answer: I agree entirely about Calvin Johnson. He won’t slip any lower than No. 4 to the Buccaneers. I think that’s too far for the 49ers to reach. They’d have to give up practically their entire draft class - 10 picks - just to get the Bucs to listen.
-- Matt Barrows.

April 18, 2007
Rotating linebackers

Question: What’s the deal with Brandon Moore? Are the Niners planning on starting him next year? It seemed like he was a strong point in our defense; with Tully Banta Cain, Jeff Ulbrich, Derek Smith and Manny Lawson, where does he fit in?
-- Tabrez, Elk Grove

Answer: Let’s say the 49ers draft one linebacker in the first four rounds of the draft. That would give them eight linebackers vying for four starting spots: Lawson, Smith, Ulbrich, Moore, Banta Cain, Parys Haralson, Roderick Green and the new guy. It certainly hasn’t been settled yet, but my best guess is that there eventually will be a steady rotation of players at the position a la the New England Patriots. The only one virtually guaranteed a starting spot is Lawson, who will continue to play on the weak side. Moore, in my opinion, should be a starter at one of the two inside linebacker spots.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Going in there is always a set number of draft eligible players from the No. 1 selection to Mr. Irrelevant. What is the upcoming date teams can reach out to players not within that magic number and invite them to take a shot as a free agent?
-- Sammy Moore Jr., Sacramento

Answer: This is one of the most competitive parts of the draft. As soon as it is over, team officials get on the phone and start calling every undrafted player they think has a shot. A lot of them are guys, like offensive lineman Harvey Dahl, for instance, they feel they can develop on their practice squad and by sending them to Europe.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Do you think Coach Nolan will undertake a lot 'projects' (players playing different positions than they did in college) this draft? Like QB to RB, or DE to LB, or WR to TE?
-- Jim, Vacaville

Answer: Yes, because it’s something he’s done quite a few times in his two drafts with Rasheed Marshall (QB to WR), Manny Lawson (DE to LB) Michael Robinson (QB to RB) and Delanie Walker (WR to TE). New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky had a lot of success converting defensive ends to rush linebackers in San Diego, and I expect the 49ers to select a smallish college defensive end - someone like Michigan’s LaMarr Woodley - in the upcoming draft.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I think everyone would agree that the 49ers could use more competition at WR this year. This is a two part question: If the 49ers stand pat in the second round, what WRs do you realistically think they would draft (I've seen lots of "analysts" say Jason Hill and Steve Smith are good fits)? Since we have Arnaz Battle and Ashley Lelie, what kind of WR do we actually need? Someone similar to Dwayne Jarret, or someone similar to Teddy Ginn? Burner vs. possession, etc.
-- Dario, Foster City

Answer: It’s a good question, Dario. Battle has become a very reliable possession receiver and has developed a nice rapport with Alex Smith. Lelie, meanwhile, is more of a home run threat. I think the 49ers would rather have a bigger, possession type because guys like that are more of an asset in the running game. However, big guys are useless if they can’t create separation. (See: Woods, Rashaun). There are a few guys in the draft who are a little of both. Jason Hill, one of the players you mentioned, is more than 200 pounds but certainly is also a downfield threat. And I think guys like Steve Smith, Craig Davis, Jacoby Jones and Paul Williams fit a similar mold.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I know a good amount about football. For some reason, however, I have no idea what OTA stands for and it is driving me nuts. Could you end my misery with this? Thanks and great blog!
-- Jacob, Elk Grove

Answer: Ah, you’re referring to organized team activities. Officially, they are voluntary (except you really don’t want to miss them) practices in which the players wear helmets but not pads and the sessions can’t be longer than two hours. They’re a tad bit controversial because there’s not supposed to be any contact, either. But how can you get 75 or so huge, aggressive men competing for each other’s job on one field and then tell them not to hit each other?
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I had a question on Alan Branch. All this hype for a kid who registered 25 tackles last year? I'll admit, I never saw him play but you'd think with all the hype, he would have put up better numbers. To me he seems like a future bust. Please enlighten me on the situation. Is size everything?
-- Scott, Elk Grove

Answer: NFL talent evaluators are asking the same question. They think that someone with Branch’s combination of size, quickness and smarts should have been more productive against the Indianas and Minnesotas of the world. In my opinion, though, that’s one of the reasons a guy like Bryant Young is so valuable. He would be the ideal role model for an underachiever like Branch and would help the 49ers squeeze as much potential as possible out of the guy.
-- Matt Barrows

April 16, 2007
49ers guest list

The 49ers today released a list of 10 draft-eligible players who will be visiting team headquarters over the next week. What can we glean from the list? It's hard to say.

Three of the 10 - Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson, LSU safety LaRon Landry and Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch - are players the team could take with the No. 11 selection in the April 28-29 draft.

In the days leading up to the draft, teams will visit with players they feel they need to know a little better before spending a pick on them. They'll also invite small-school players such as Towson offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, who might be unfamiliar to them or who might have been invited to the annual scouting combine.

Sometimes they'll invite a player they have no intention of drafting - a red herring to throw other teams off the trail. And it also should be noted that the 49ers could invite up to 20 more players to Santa Clara in the next week and a half.

Among the 10 invitees, five are defensive linemen, two are offensive linemen, two are receivers and one is a safety. The 49ers' biggest draft-day needs are believed to be defensive line and receiver.

Here's the list:

Ikaik Alama Francis - DE Hawaii

Jamaal Anderson - DE Arkansas

Jermon Bushrod - OT Towson

Justin Harrell - DT Tennessee

Laron Landry - S LSU

Ray McDonald - DT Florida

Robert Meachem - WR Tennessee

Tony Ugoh - OT Arkansas

Jason Hill - WR Washington State

Alan Branch - DT Michigan

-- Matt Barrows

April 13, 2007
Offensive line name game

Question: Do you suppose there is any chance the 49ers will draft an authentic center to replace Jeremy Newberry, thereby freeing up Eric Heitmann to compete for G/T and maybe freeing up someone who can pass block for RT? There are two centers out there that look as if they can do the job: Ryan Kalil or Sampson Satele. It might be kind of cool for the 49ers to have a center named Sampson. What do you think?

- James Tuell, Vacaville

Answer: The best offensive lineman name of all time has to be Will Shields. That's like having a receiver named Will Goverdamiddle. I'm not sure center is high on their draft list. Heitmann has made a miraculous recovery from his broken leg and has become the de facto leader of the offensive line. He's very intelligent and may be more effective at center than at guard. In addition, both David Baas and Tony Wragge can play the position.

- Matt Barrows

April 13, 2007
The line on linebackers


Question: Notice you keep showing LB as a last issue. Since no word is leaking out on current team happenings, what current LBs are making impressions on you and the Niners thus far - attitude-wise, aggressiveness, sideline to sideline, etc? And is Parys Haralson totally involved in sessions?

- Sammy Moore Jr., Sacramento

Answer: Parys Haralson is indeed taking part in the offseason workouts (which, by the way, are different than OTAs) and is in the running to land the starting strong-side linebacking job. Since most teams run to the strong side (the side with the tight end), the linebacker has to be stout enough to hold up at the point of attack, and Haralson is built like a fire hydrant. As for new additions to the linebacking corps, the 49ers have been sniffing around Texas defensive end Brian Robison, who would be converted to linebacker if he were drafted by San Francisco.

- Matt Barrows

April 13, 2007
Making a mockery out of mock drafts


Question: Al Wilson was just released by Denver. Are we interested? Second, I keep hearing Alan Branch's name in the same sentence as "bust" and "falling" as in down the draft board. I hear the same about Jamaal Anderson (lack of physical strength). Both of these guys appear on mock drafts as our No. 11 pick. Needless to say I'm worried. If Adam Carriker isn't there, what do we do?

- Jason, Sacramento

Answer: I haven't heard anything about Wilson and my guess is that he's a little long in the tooth for the 49ers' liking. As for mock drafts -- remember that they're compiled by members of the media. Most don't know what the heck they're talking about. The ones that do are getting their information from NFL personnel guys who may be disseminating misinformation so that a particular player "falls" into their laps. In other words, I wouldn't lose any sleep over mock drafts.

Now that I've told you not to pay attention to anything the media writes prior to the draft, pay attention to this: I think the 49ers would be tickled with either Branch or Carriker and there's a likelihood that at least one of them will be available at pick No. 11. Carriker is an overachiever; Branch is an underachiever. But that's why the 49ers went out and got a new defensive line coach - to whip young linemen like Branch into shape.

- Matt Barrows

April 13, 2007
Are Niners smiling at Smiley?

Question: There was a rumor at this time last year that the Denver Broncos had offered their first-round pick in the 2006 draft for Justin Smiley, who fits their style of offensive lineman. With only a year left on his contract, and not being able to sign him to an extension, are the 49ers actively shopping him prior to the draft ... or should they be shopping Smiley before his contract expires and they receive nothing?

- Justin Mozart, Palo Alto

Answer: OK, first things first. You're right, the Broncos did indeed show interest in Smiley last year, but I can almost assure you they didn't offer a first-round draft pick for him. If they had, Smiley - as would be the case with just about any 49er not named Alex, Vernon or Frank - would have been on an airplane to DIA moments later. A first rounder, in other words, is too steep.

That being said, the 49ers have not been able to work out a long-term deal with Smiley. "Actively shopping" might be too strong a phrase, but they are willing to listen to offers. The team's stance is that Smiley is not the big, mauling type of guard they prefer and that they have a very capable young player - David Baas - waiting in the wings. Smiley and his camp, however, feel they are in a position of strength as well. First, Smiley is one of three offensive linemen whose contracts will expire after this season. (Kwame Harris and Larry Allen are the others.) And second, Baas has not developed as quickly as the 49ers expected when they drafted him two years ago. Smiley showed toughness by playing through a shoulder injury this season, and he is very good on his feet. Many of the 49ers' effective short-yardage plays (and yes, they were few and far between) involved Smiley pulling from his guard position and overloading the other side.

I personally don't feel the 49ers should trade him because I don't feel a team with questionable depth on the offensive line can afford to trade any of its starters. However, if the 49ers feel they are going to be without Smiley next year anyway, they might try to roll the dice.

- Matt Barrows

April 12, 2007
More draft queries and theories

Question: Walter Thomas is his name. And I was wondering if you know whether or not the Niners even have him on their radar as a possible "last round" pick? This is a 6-5, 370-pound nose tackle/condo in a football uniform. And some say he can really move all that.

- Sammy Moore Jr.

Answer: I gotta be honest with you, Sammy. We've reached the time of the year where fibbing is not only possible, it's expected. If the Niners had this guy on their radar, they wouldn't admit it. And if they told me they were looking at this guy, I wouldn't print it.

- Matt Barrows

Question: If Alan Branch, Patrick Willis, Adam Carriker, and Amobi Okoye were all still there when the 49ers went on the clock, who do you think they would choose? What do you think of the 49ers maybe grabbing Michael Bush from Louisville in Round 3? He would be a great addition to the backfield to take some of the load from Frank Gore.

- Cesar, Arbuckle

Answer: Of those four, I think they would take Branch. He can play all three positions in a 3-4 front and his combination of size and speed comes along every five years or so. I think Bush would be a fantastic addition in Round 3. The lesson learned from Gore is that taking a running back with injury issues in the third round is worth the gamble. Besides, the 49ers need a competent backup for Gore in case he ever gets dinged up.

- Matt Barrows

Question: I'm writing about the inside linebacker position. I think Derek Smith is solid, but he's in his 11th year. Brandon Moore is a rock and Ulbrich adds good depth. I would like to add a player in the third or fourth round, but overall, I think our urgency is at defensive line, receiver, and offensive tackle. Can you please comment?

- Berger, Eeno

Answer: I would list the 49ers' position priorities like this: DL, WR, OL, RB, LB. I think the 49ers' philosophy is to throw eight or so linebackers into training camp this summer and see which ones rise to the top. I doubt they will draft someone to play insider linebacker specifically. Look for them to draft a very good athlete - a smallish defensive end, perhaps - and then throw him into the mix as linebacker.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey, Matt. What is your take on the 49ers' 2007 schedule? I think with the improved team and a favorable schedule they could definitely make the playoffs. I think if the Niners can get through the first 12 games with at least a 6-6 record then they can definitely close the season with four straight wins because they have three straight home games and then the last game on the road against Cleveland. If they can do that they would have great momentum heading into the playoffs.

- Brad, Davis

Answer: That's a good assessment, Brad, but remember what happened this past season. The 49ers still had a chance at the playoffs - albeit a faint one - and lost home games to Arizona and Green Bay, two beatable teams. Still, I agree with you that it seems they have a very nice opportunity to finish the season with a flurry and go into the postseason with some momentum. The other key games, to me, are the first two. The Cardinals have given them fits in recent years and they need to exorcise the demons from last year's game in St. Louis. They win those two and they are sitting pretty indeed.

- Matt Barrows

April 11, 2007
Schedule starts like lion, ends like lamb

The NFL lifted the veil from the season schedule today, and the early impression is that the 49ers' road to the playoffs is top heavy. Four of the first five games - on paper, at least - look as if they will be very tough wins; four of the final five shouldn't be as difficult.

The most important is the first - the Monday night game against Arizona to open the season. Not only did the Cardinals sweep the 49ers last season - the only NFC West team to do so - Mike Nolan and Co. believe they will be the 49ers' stingiest rival in the years to come. The 49ers spent big bucks this offseason on a new cornerback and safety, and against Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, they immediately will find out if it was money well spent.

From there, the 49ers have a short week to prepare for a trip to St. Louis, the place where many fans believe the team's playoff hopes were lost last season, and they follow that with a road trip to Pittsburgh, their first trip to the Steel City in more than a decade. That's followed by home games against division champion Seattle and Nolan's former team, the Baltimore Ravens.

The 49ers have a bye just before their longest road trip (5,116 miles) to East Rutherford, N.J., where they play the Giants. Look for the Eli Manning vs. Alex Smith story line to receive plenty of hype. After that, there's an intriguing matchup with the New Orleans Saints. Last year, Reggie Bush had his coming-out party against the 49ers, embarrassing them with four highlight-reel touchdowns. It will be interesting to see whether Nolan's revamped defense can keep pace with Bush this season.

If, as promised, the 49ers head to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, they likely will do so with a rousing finale. They have a three-game home stretch in December and none of their final seven opponents had a winning record in 2006. They finish on the road in Cleveland, quite possible the league's worst team east of Alameda County.

- Matt Barrows

April 10, 2007
Picking a lineman

Question: Hi, Matt, Always enjoy your analysis on the Niners. My question I guess is more or less hypothetical, but stranger things have happened in the draft. Everybody knows that even with their new free agents, the 49ers need defensive help in a lot of areas. But let’s suppose that, for whatever reasons, Branch, Carriker, Willis and Landry are not on the board when they pick. Do you think they would ever consider drafting Levi Brown, the huge offensive tackle from Penn State, or would they try to trade down for an extra pick and go after Meachem or Bowe?
-- Richard Thorpe, Sacramento

Answer: If the 49ers did go with an offensive lineman with their No. 11 pick, I imagine the big-bodied Brown would be the guy they target. The scenario gets a little more interesting when you consider that two of the 49ers’ starting offensive linemen, Kwame Harris and Justin Smiley, are entering the final year of their contracts. However, I have to believe that receiver is a much bigger concern at this time. To answer your question, I think they would try to trade down for Meachem or Bowe, or even select Bowe outright with the No. 11 pick.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, Some mock drafts show Arkansas DE Jamaal Anderson dropping into the 49ers' range with the 11th pick. He seems big enough to hold up against the run while providing a better pass rush than Adam Carriker. Could he be a good fit with the 49ers?
-- Kevin, Pleasant Hill

Answer: It’s a really good question considering that Anderson’s size (6-6, 286) almost is identical to that of Carriker, whom many believe is the prototypical defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. What I’m hearing, however, is that Anderson is more of a speed guy and might not have the strength to hold his ground on a 3-4 line. He had 22 reps on the bench press, which isn’t bad at all for someone with such long arms (Carriker had 33) but his lower body strength apparently needs improvement. If the 49ers were sticking with a 4-3, I think there’s no way they could pass up Anderson at No. 11. As it stands now, he might be worth more as trade bait if he drops to No. 11.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: It's no secret we need a WR and D-linemen in the draft that can both contribute right away. I would be happy with Carikker or even Branch at No. 11, then trading back into the first round and getting Bowe or Meachem. It seems as if the Lions are shopping the number 2 pick. What would we have to give to move up to number 2? (and draft C.Johnson)What picks would we likely have left and what stout D-linemen would be around for the taking? By the way, Matt, love the column....great work!
-- Jason, Sacramento

Answer: It would take a lot to trade up to No. 2. In fact, the unofficial “draft value chart” says that the 49ers would have to trade all 10 picks - and maybe throw in a player or two - to accumulate enough value to nab Johnson at pick No. 2. In other words, it’s not going to happen. A team that pulls that type of trade feels that it’s one player away from the Super Bowl. The 49ers are not in that category. Yet.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I just finished reading a projected seven-round mock draft by 'expert' Tom Marino. Tom has the 49ers with 10 picks over 6 rounds. Of the 10 picks he has Mike Nolan picking eight defensive players and two offensive. Of the 10 picks, I had heard of only one of his picks: first-round pick Adam Carriker. My first question is this: Will Nolan be this lopsided with the number of Ds over Os? Q No. 2:Do you believe he will address the needs of the offense: WR, FB to address short yardage, and an RT that can pass block?
-- Jim, Vacaville

Answer: If the 49ers keep all 10 picks - and that’s a big ‘if’ - I see them taking at least one receiver, a running back and an offensive lineman. In other words, I would say the ratio would be 7 to 3 at most. As for specific offensive positions, the team is quite happy with fullback Moran Norris. If they bring in a running back, it could be a so-called “change of pace” back, i.e., a pass-catcher with speed. Look for Frank Gore to handle the bulk of the short-yardage situations this season.
-- Matt Barrows

April 6, 2007
Some love for the O-line?

Question: As a Kings and Niners fan, I see one team on the rise and one free-falling down the Grand Canyon. So I'm trying to focus on the happy stuff. The mock drafts I've seen are having the Niners taking a defensive tackle. But with Frank Gore backfield, shouldn't we trade up or down and try to get some o-lineman? Joe Thomas could help out that right side, since we've already got Larry Allen and Jonas Jennings on the left. What do you think?
-- Kameron Schmid, Roseville

Answer: Yeah, seems like the 49ers are taking a pack mule to the top of the Grand Canyon while the Kings are taking a more express service to the bottom. As far as the offensive line - no, the line isn't perfect, but it did help pave the way for Gore to be the NFC rushing champ last year. That is, it's not screaming for attention as is the case at wide receiver and defensive line. Besides, trading up to get Joe Thomas would require the 49ers to deal away most of their remaining draft picks. That's not going to happen. Look for San Francisco to go after an o-lineman in the third round.
-- Matt Barrows

April 6, 2007
Trading around Briggs

Question: I know Chicago turned down Washington's offer for Briggs, but is there any interest from the 49ers? It seems like Briggs could solidify the linebacker corps and the 49ers have a lot of picks to deal if necessary.
--Chris, Fairfield

Answer: The Chicago-Washington trade would have involved the two teams swapping first-round picks: Chicago has No. 30, the Redskins No. 6. The Bears also wanted linebacker Rocky McIntosh, who is going into his second season. That seems awful steep, and I'm fairly certain the 49ers wouldn't even contemplate terms like that. Considering the 49ers could nab Patrick Willis with their No. 11 pick, I don't think they'd be willing to trade it for Briggs, and I know they're not willing to give up one of their young, defensive prospects.
-- Matt Barrows

April 6, 2007
Rounding out the secondary

Question: Matt, With the signings of Clements and Michael Lewis, our secondary should be set with Harris and Clements at cornerback and Lewis and who else at the other safety position? We had Mike Adams through eight games last season, followed by Mark Roman and Keith Lewis. Do you see them maybe picking up LaRon Landy (if he falls) or another safety in the draft?
--Matt, Auburn

Answer: Unless they think that LaRon Landry is the second coming of Ed Reed (and some feel that's true), I don't see the 49ers drafting Landry. The team just committed a lot of money in new contracts to Roman and both Lewises, and they have big needs elsewhere. If the season started tomorrow, I would say that Roman and Michael Lewis would be the starting safeties. Roman is good in pass coverage, Michael lewis is great against the run and Keith Lewis is one of the most gifted special teams players in the league. Mike Adams, by the way, is now a member of the Cleveland Browns.
-- Matt Barrows

April 4, 2007
Can the Niners snag Darrell Jackson?

Question: I've heard that the Seahawks may be looking to trade WR Darrell Jackson. Do you think the 49ers will try to make the trade and how much would they have to give up? I think this could be a great move for the Niners and would really solidify a position of need. He had 63 catches for 956 yards and 10 touchdowns which are solid numbers and he could be a big help to Alex Smith and the passing game.
--Brad, Davis

Answer: You're right - Darrell Jackson would be a big help in the passing game. The question is whether the 49ers believe they can find someone in the draft who will be a younger, less expensive version of Jackson. If not, they might have to give up one of their first-day picks - a third rounder? - to get him. If there is a trade, look for it to come in the days leading up to the draft.
-- Matt Barrows

April 4, 2007
A day as Mike Nolan

Question: Ok Matt, you're the 49ers beat writer and probably have more info on the 49ers than any of us readers. Suppose that on NFL draft weekend we turn you into Mike Nolan for one weekend. What do you do in the draft to improve the 49ers (your picks, trading up or down, etc.)?
--Dennis A. Walter, Elk Grove

Answer: Do I get paid like Mike Nolan for a weekend? Because there's this cool flat-screen TV I have my eye on.

Ok, this is what I do. Because my new 3-4 defensive will only work if my linebackers have room to roam, I draft either Alan Branch or Adam Carriker with my first-round pick. Both guys are massive and strong and will occupy the opponent's o-line. Then, I pool my second-round pick with a third and two fourths to move back into the first round where I draft Robert Meachem, the receiver out of Tennessee. I use my remaining third rounder on the best offensive lineman available and my remaining two fourth rounders on a running back and defensive end-turned-linebacker.

On Day 2, I draft Mike Devito, a huge nose tackle from the University of Maine who is quick enough to play DE in my scheme. I use my sixth rounder on the best remaining receiver out there.
-- Matt Barrows

April 4, 2007
Progress report on Alex Smith

Question: The past two years I've been patiently and eagerly waiting for Alex Smith to break out. Although he DID make massive leaps and bounds last year, what do you think will become of him in 2007? If he doesn't have a breakout season next year, do you think the Niners will keep faith in him? We did move the ball a lot more in the passing game, but it just doesn't seem like he's playing up to the level he did at Utah.
-- Austin, Yreka

Answer: Alex Smith's biggest improvement was between his second and third seasons at Utah. If he makes similar strides in the NFL, I think you'll be happy. And I can guarantee you that even if doesn't, the 49ers' decision makers will keep faith in him for a while longer. Look how long it took the Texans to cut ties with David Carr ...
-- Matt Barrows

April 4, 2007
Pointers on Pick Trading

Question: Keeping pick No. 11, what would it take to get another first rounder? With two third rounders and four fourth-round picks, can we get another first rounder without giving up our second rounder? If so, where in the first round, top ,bottom, middle? Who might be interested in dealing with us?
--Jason, Sacramento

Answer: There's a so-called "draft value" chart that teams use when contemplating a trade. The first overall pick is worth 3,000 points, pick No. 2 is 2,600 points and so forth until you get to the last pick in the seventh round, which is worth, like, two points.

According to this chart, if the 49ers pooled together all their third- and fourth-round picks, they only could trade into the beginning of the second round. Which means they probably will have to offer their second rounder if they want to move up.

As far as teams willing to deal, the only one that catches my eye is New England, which has picks 24 and 28 in the first round. The Pats have an aging defense and might want to restock with the middle-round picks the 49ers could provide.
--Matt Barrows

April 4, 2007
Truth be told

Question: Is the Andre Johnson trade true and is Alex Smith's rotator cuff actually torn?
--Andrew, San Francisco

Answer: You should always be wary of what you read on Internet (this site being the exception) and especially suspicious of anything you read April 1.
--Matt Barrows

April 1, 2007
Rating the O-line

Question: Diehard Niner transplant (1979) from the Bay Area. Watching the Niners all of these years (since late '40s), I am pleased to see that the team appears to have an evolutionary plan to reclaim respectability. I like the free agency moves and look forward to the draft. However, I'm interested in hearing your evaluation of our offensive line; its capabilities, fragility, lack of depth and ability to protect Alex Smith now and into the future. Historically, defense is critical, but our ability to execute the Niner offense has always relied heavily on the quality of our offensive line.
-- Don Moura, Lincoln

Answer: Mike Nolan agrees with you regarding the importance of a robust offensive line, Don. I remember my first interview with him in the spring of 2005. I was surprised when he said he felt the most crucial part of a team was the offensive line. Here’s a guy whose father was an NFL cornerback and a defensive-minded coach, a guy who played defense in college and one who coached defense all but one year of his professional career. And he thinks the first step in rebuilding a team is to work on the offensive line? His explanation, of course, was that years of coaching defense have taught him that the hardest offenses to go against were the ones with big, powerful offensive lines.

And that’s what he’s trying to build in San Francisco. The line is good at three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust type running, but certainly wasn’t dominant last season as the team’s short-yardage woes indicate. One problem down the line is the status of the two starting guards, Larry Allen and Justin Smiley. Allen will turn 36 this upcoming season and certainly isn’t as spry as he used to be. Smiley, meanwhile, is proving difficult to sign. The 49ers say they are in no panic to give him a long-term contract because there’s a better fit for their offense - David Baas - right behind Smiley on the depth chart.

My opinion is that if Baas were so good, he would have bumped Smiley out of the lineup long ago. In fact, there isn’t anyone on the line who really stands out. Most are average to above average. However, they work well as a unit, and for that you can credit good coaching.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey, Matt. Do you think the 49ers will be looking at a tight end at all in the draft this year? Vernon Davis is big and fast yet didn’t seem to impress me last year.
-- Richard J, Citrus Heights

Answer: Davis played like a guy who entered the NFL after his junior year - he showed glimpses of greatness but was never really consistent. Part of that, of course, is due to a broken leg that sidelined him for half the season and part can be pinned on the struggles of the passing game as a whole. I wouldn’t worry, though. He’s too big and too strong not to be effective, and he should mesh well with a deep threat like Ashley Lelie. As far as drafting a tight end, it’s certainly a possibility now that Eric Johnson is in New Orleans. However, in my humble opinion, Delanie Walker was the best pass catcher on the team last training camp until he separated his shoulder in a preseason game. He has very quick hands and I can’t remember him dropping a pass. He needs seasoning and to develop a connection with Alex Smith, but once that happens he should be a more than adequate compliment to Davis.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Why does the printed word on the Raiders far surpass that of the Niners? Is it the old story of "no news is good news"? I would much prefer to read about the Niners in the daily paper that to stumble around online.
-- Jerry Prock, Sacramento

Answer: -- Matt Barrows

Question: Two things. First off, it is really great having you as an "inside-source;" you do really good stuff. Secondly, I keep hearing we have 11 picks upcoming. Where in the following draft sequence am I missing something? Our picks: R1-11th, R2-42nd, R3-76&97, R4-104/110/124 & 135, R5-147th and R6-186th. Again, this is only 10, what is missing please?
-- Sammy Moore, Jr., Sacramento

Answer: You’re not missing anything, Sammy. Those are the 49ers’ picks. Some people might be forgetting the 49ers lost their seventh rounder in the Ken Dorsey-for-Trent Dilfer trade.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Did the 49ers get anything in compensation for coach Turner? If not, why? Will the 49ers play against him soon? How does, if any, compensation apply?
-- Ernie Riberal, Elk Grove

Answer: A team can’t prevent one of its assistant coaches from seeking a promotion. The Raiders got compensation when they lost Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay because he was the Raiders coach at the time and still under contract. It was as if Oakland “traded” Gruden to Tampa Bay. And unless the 49ers play the Chargers in the preseason (likely) or the Super Bowl (not quite as likely) they won’t face San Diego until 2010.



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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