After the South squad’s first Senior Bowl practice in January, I walked up to Mike Nolan and asked him what he thought about his team. It was too early to give a detailed impression, he said, but one thing was clear – the South had very good cornerbacks. When he was on NFL Network last month, he told the hosts that he thought the draft was strong in offensive tackles and cornerbacks. And this past weekend in Tahoe, Nolan said that offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and corner were possibilities with the team’s No. 29 pick in the draft.
Going into the draft, I believe the 49ers are hoping that one of a handful of players, including Auburn’s Quentin Groves, falls to them at the end of the first round. I also think they will listen very carefully to teams that want to trade for their No. 29 pick. Their failsafe – Plan C, if you will – may be to draft the best cornerback available.
The 49ers, of course, have one Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in Nate Clements. But they play in a pass-happy division and their other starter, Walt Harris, will be 34 when the season begins. Shawntae Spencer could eventually replace Harris, but he has had trouble staying healthy, even in a back-up role. The team also is high on Tarell Brown’s potential, but he is an unproven commodity at this point. Marcus Hudson and Donald Strickland, meanwhile, seem more like role players than long-term starters.
Cornerback certainly isn’t a sexy pick, but coaches love to accumulate them. Having two (or three) good cornerbacks gives defenses more flexibility. Nolan, for example, loves to allow his safety, Michael Lewis, to play all over the field and make plays along the line of scrimmage. It also should be noted that the 49ers haven’t selected a cornerback higher than the fifth round (Brown) under the Nolan-McCloughan regime.
So whom would the 49ers select? It’s safe to say that the two cornerback stars from the Senior Bowl, Troy’s Leodis McKelvin and Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, will be gone by the 29th pick. But there might be some other prominent names on the board such as Kansas’ Aqib Talib, South Florida’s Michael Jenkins and Virginia Tech’s Brandon Flowers.
By the way, The Sporting News held its annual correspondent’s draft yesterday. When it came time for me to draft, Groves and Gosder Cherilus already were off the board. So whom did I select? Gotta buy TSN to find out. (McCloughan is dashing out to the nearest magazine stand as we speak …)
Like many of you, I was intrigued by Kevin Lynch’s recent report that Bryant Young had yet to file retirement papers, so I contacted BY’s agent, Sacramento’s own Don Yee, to see if anything was afoot. Here’s what Yee wrote back in an e-mail: “BY is enjoying his offseason, which has included participating in team charitable functions. The filing of 'retirement papers' is an administrative and benefits-related procedure is all." That doesn’t exactly slam the door on BY returning for another season. But Young has said he’s played his last game. And what BY says, BY does …
-- Matt Barrows