Ok, the 49ers haven’t landed any whoppers yet – what are we, 2 ½ hours into free agency? – but they have been working on their depth. MM and ESPN are reporting that the team has deals with linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan, running back DeShaun Foster and a Friday meeting with Justin Smith. Thomas and Foster have two-year deals; O’Sullivan has a one-year deal.
I’ve been reporting about the interest in O’Sullivan for a while and learned about the interest in Thomas yesterday. When I got the Thomas info, I picked up the phone and called Kevin Seifert, who’s the Vikings beat writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. In an interesting twist of fate, Kevin and I were in the same freshman dorm at UVA (I was on the first floor; he was on the second) in 1991-92. We both covered sports for rival newspapers. And yet we NEVER KNEW THE OTHER EXISTED until a recent discussion in the Candlestick elevator following the 2007 49ers-Vikings game. Freaky, huh?
But I digress … As for Thomas, Seifert said that he is incredibly fast and athletic and is a very sharp guy. He did say, however, that there was a sense that Thomas never tapped his potential in Minnesota. When I told him that the vacant Ted linebacker spot in San Francisco required a player who wasn’t shy about taking on blocks, Seifert said that Thomas was more of a chase-down-the-ball carrier type player than a pound-the-line-of scrimmage player. That could mean that Thomas is being signed more as a back-up to Patrick Willis than as a replacement for Derek Smith. Perhaps the move is designed to allow Jeff Ulbrich, who is now Willis’ back-up, a chance to slide to Ted. Maybe it’s designed to light a fire under Brandon Moore. It is interesting to note that Thomas had one of his best games in his brief career (and one of his rare starts) against the 49ers in 2006 when he finished with eight tackles and a sack.
Unless the 49ers draft a quarterback – and it’s looking like they will not – O’Sullivan will be charged with running the scout teams while Alex Smith and Shaun Hill duke it out for a starting job. O’Sullivan has been around and he handled himself well in a rare regular season appearance last season in Detroit when the two players ahead of him were hurt. In a Mike Martz offense, that scenario isn’t so farfetched. O’Sullivan stands a better chance to see action than most third stringers. He’s obviously familiar to Martz, and it doesn’t hurt that he grew up two hours away in Sac-town.
Justin Smith, meanwhile, is scheduled to visit the Vikings and the 49ers tomorrow. You have to wonder, however, if Minnesota, which feels that it’s on the verge of taking over the NFC North, will let him get out of the great white north without signing a deal. Stay tuned … ***Well, now John Clayton of ESPN is reporting that Smith will visit the 49ers BEFORE the Vikings. So you have to wonder if they'll allow Smith to get on a plane to Minneapolis without signing a deal ...***
-- Matt Barrows