49ers Blog and Q&A

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

May 6, 2008
Q&A: Pass rush to judgment

Question: Hey Matt- For a team that didn't have any success rushing the passer last season, and their reluctance to draft a premier edge rusher in the draft (see: Groves, Quentin), do you think that's a sign the Niners are confident that Manny Lawson, Tully Banta-Cain, and Parys Harralson can make a fairly substantial turnaround this season?
Bryan, Sacramento

Answer: That seems to be the thinking at 4949 Centennial – Lawson is on his way to a full recovery from his knee injury, TBC is in much better shape than he was at this time last year and Haralson is a year more experienced. The counter argument, of course, is that not one of those three players has ever been a consistent pass rusher. It should be noted that the two biggest needs heading into the draft – offensive tackle and edge pass rusher – went unfulfilled.
- Matt

Question: Matt, do you know if Tommy Blake, the d-lineman from TCU, ever connected with a team? He was supposed to be a first-round talent until he was diagnosed with a psych disorder.
Pedro, Plano, Texas

Answer: Looks like he got a weekend tryout from the Buccaneers. I have a call into his agent …
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, great work and nice observations. When Chilo was announced as our RD 2 pick, I was surprised, but very impressed. Seemingly everyone and their mama retorted with a consensus WHO? But, as I'm a fellow Trojan, I know his pedigree is top notch, a great steal akin taking Staley the previous year. Would've been a top 15 pick next year. Your thoughts?
Henry, San Jose

Answer: Well, with the exception of David Baas, McCloughan and company have been on the mark as far as o-line talent. (And yes, I’m including JJ in that category. He’s good when he plays). We’ll have to wait until the team dons pads, but Rachal certainly passed the eyeball test over the weekend. He’s big and can move. He’s so long-legged, though, that he’ll have to be careful about his leverage.
- Matt

Question: What's the big deal about Sopoaga being a NT and not a DE? Or Balmer for that matter? I thought the 3-4 basically calls for three DT-sized linemen to eat up all the blockers and free things up for the linebackers. As for Sopoaga not being quick enough to play end, one of the knocks on his play as a nose is his propensity to penetrate rather than tie up blockers.
Ryan, Washington, D.C.

Answer: Good point. All three of the d-line positions operate essentially the same way, which is why you see guys like Ronald Fields playing all three in one game. I think the rule of thumb for the 49ers linemen is to tie up blockers for Patrick Willis and Co. unless they are close enough to make a play on the ball themselves.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt: Do you see any improvements or a tiny glimmer of hope that the offense, specifically the quarterback position, will give the 49ers a better chance to win this year as compared to last year? I understand it has only been three days of practices, but what is your gut feeling? Would you run out and buy season tickets? I have been reading all the blogs and it seems to me, hope am wrong, that the writers are not impressed with the progress of the offense so far.
Teddy, Kenner, La.

Answer: Nah – I wouldn’t read anything into it thus far. It’s true, there were plenty of bungles during the minicamp. During one Sunday drill, in fact, there were false starts on five of six plays. But that’s to be expected when you are throwing new guys into the mix and digesting a complicated new playbook. If that is still going on midway through training camp, then you should be worried. The glimmer of hope from the minicamp is that Alex Smith seems to be well on his way to making a full recovery from his shoulder surgery.
- Matt

Question: What is going on with Takeo Spikes?
Kyle, San Mateo

Answer: Nada. I think the 49ers want to see how their “ted” competition turns out before making a move on Spikes. They know what they have in Ulbrich. What they need to find out is whether Dontarrious Thomas or Larry Grant can rise to the occasion.
- Matt

Question: If Larry Allen were to return to the 49ers this year, is there any chance they might move him to right tackle? How do you see the 49ers options at right tackle if Jonas Jennings folds?
Tom, Crystal Bay, NY

Answer: I have to be careful how I say this because I have a rule about upsetting people who can bench press 700 pounds, but Larry Allen no longer has the foot speed to play tackle. (Some (not me, Larry) argue he no longer has the foot speed to play guard). But your concern is legitimate. If Jennings were to get injured (hard to imagine, huh?) the 49ers would either have to move Adam Snyder from left guard to right tackle, something they don’t want to have to do, or cross their fingers with Damane Duckett. The team has been encouraged by Duckett’s progress at his new position. However, he’s sorely lacking in-game experience. Getting him plenty of reps this preseason will be critical.
- Matt

Question: I noticed Larry Allen is not at the minicamp. Is it a foregone conclusion that he is gone?
Goose, Yukon, Ok

Answer: Not a foregone conclusion. Remember, he missed the entire offseason last year before showing up a day after training camp had begun. Remember also that his contract expired. He’s no longer a 49er. He’s a free agent.
- Matt

Question: The 49ers first three picks are all versatile: Balmer might play nose tackle, maybe left end. Rachal could play guard or tackle. Reggie Smith might be a corner, might be a safety. Versatility is a good thing, but would the 49ers have been better off drafting someone they knew was definitely a nose tackle or definitely a corner? Are they trying to fill two holes with one player?
Tommy, Falls Church

Answer: Yeah, I see your point. It seems like the quasi guys the 49ers have drafted in the past – Adam Snyder, for example – are still searching for a permanent position and won’t reach their full potential until they do so. As I wrote last week, the 49ers brass may be playing a psychological game, too. By saying that Balmer can play LDE or NT, they are keeping two veterans, Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin, on their toes.
- Matt

Question: uh... how does Justin Smiley have a torn pectoral and is not practicing? Just wishful thinking of having him back or habbit?
Aaron, Rhonert Park

Answer: No clue how my odd brain managed that one. If anything, I thought I might confuse “Justin Smith” with “Justin Smiley” at some point. However, I’m not sure someone who spells “habit” with two b’s should be pointing out errors. :)

- Matt


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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