Question: What up, Matt. Awesome blog, by the way. It's the first thing I read every day. If I have time, maybe I read Maiocco's. My question is this - I know the 49ers have played only five games, but is it too early to start thinking about free agency and the draft? Also, I'd like to add that your mug shot, while perhaps too large, makes you look particularly handsome.
Matt Barrows, San Jose.
Answer: Hi, Matt. Thanks for the kind words. Coming from someone as handsome as yourself, that is truly a compliment. To answer your question, it's never too soon to talk about ways the 49ers can improve the team. In fact, I'll give you my Top 5 areas where the 49ers need help.
-- Matt Barrows
1. Receiver. I've written about this ad nauseum. The failings of the 49ers' ground game are as much a result of a listless passing attack as they are an ineffective offensive line. Opposing defenses have been so unimpressed by the 49ers receivers that they primarily have used single coverage, sending their extra defenders to stop Frank Gore. Perhaps the big, fast wideout who makes defenses tremble is already on the team. But if Ashley Lelie or Bryan Gilmore or Jason Hill or LeRon McCoy fail to make an impression this season, it has to be priority No. 1 come March and April.
2. Outside linebacker. If the 49ers are to run an effective 3-4 defense, they have to stock up on outside linebackers just as the Baltimore Ravens do. All it took was one injury this season - Manny Lawson's ACL - to expose this part of the 49ers' roster. I thought that Lawson's counterpart, Tully Banta-Cain, had his best game of the season last week against the Ravens, but he hasn't been the consistent pass-rush threat the 49ers need at his position. He has 1 1/2 sacks so far this season and his full sack - which came against Seattle's Walter Jones - came by accident.
3. Guard. The 49ers have done a good job at building depth here, but by March that depth could evaporate like a puddle on a hot summer's day. Both Larry Allen and Justin Smiley are in the final years of their contracts and it's hard to imagine that either will return. Adam Snyder likely would take over for Allen and David Baas for Smiley. Snyder, however, would be the top fill-in at both tackle positions, especially if Kwame Harris is not re-signed. The 49ers could use their first-round pick, which comes courtesy of the Colts and which I predict will be pick No. 30, on one of the best guards available.
4. Inside linebacker. It seemed like one of the team's deepest positions this offseason. But for some reason Brandon Moore doesn't have the confidence of the coaches and Derek Smith is slowing down. (Although I thought he had a nice game against the Ravens). One guy to keep an eye on is practice squader Mark Washington, who has nice size, handles blocks well and is intelligent.
5. Defensive line. You might wonder why this isn't a higher priority, especially if Bryant Young retires. The team seems to be ok at right defensive end between good-looking rookie Ray McDonald and Marques Douglas, who probably will be resigned. The question mark comes at Young's position - left end. It seems to me one possible solution would be to stick Isaac Sopoaga there. The team almost certainly will offer him a contract extension and he seems to have the size-quickness combination to excel at that position.
I am hesitant to give free publicity to an organization that one day may cost me my job. But the NFL had microphones on 10 players and coaches during Sunday's Ravens-49ers tilt, and the NFL Network will air it tomorrow (Sat.) night at 8 p.m. There's a brief preview on NFL.com that makes it look pretty cool. One of the miked players is Ravens LB Ray Lewis, who in one clip sheds (easily) a block by Eric Heitmann to make a tackle on Michael Robinson.
Used the day off today to expand the old noggin. I saw the Body Worlds exhibit at the Technology Museum in San Jose. Anyone who is still unclear about Alex Smith's shoulder injury ought to go because you'll get the most thorough anatomy lesson you'd ever want to have - shoulders, spines, kidneys, duodenums, etc. etc., and they're all from real people who donated their bodies for the exhibit. Want to see what a coal miner's lung looks like? Go see the exhibit. Want to see why your liver hates it when you drink too much? Head to San Jose. It's like going through eight years of medical school in 45 minutes. Fascinating stuff, but only for those with strong stomachs.
-- Matt Barrows