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May 15, 2008
Trotter and the 49ers' troubles at "Ted"

The 49ers are now interested in two 30-something former Pro Bowl middle linebackers. The team on Wednesday hosted Jeremiah Trotter, who last year was on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster. Trotter had a physical and now the team is considering whether to sign him. Trotter, 31, is a four-time Pro Bowler. But last year, he played in only three games, one of them against San Francisco. The team also has been considering Takeo Spikes, 31, a two-time Pro Bowler. Both players presumably are being considered for the “Ted” linebacker spot next to rising star Patrick Willis.

What can we glean from this? Well, for one thing, the 49ers really seem to want a veteran to be playing alongside Willis. That was the case last year when Derek Smith was Willis’ partner at inside linebacker. Smith may have lost a step or three over the years, but he is smart and savvy and was a nice compliment to Willis, as his defensive rookie of the year award attests.

It should also be noted that Mike Nolan initially thought Willis would be the defensive player who will wear a radio receiver in his helmet but that the task of receiving the defensive plays, at least for now, has gone to safety Mark Roman. It seems – and this is purely my interpretation – that the 49ers don’t want Willis bogged down. A veteran leader like Spikes or Trotter not only would keep blockers off of Willis, they would deflect a lot of the leadership/play calling burden from him as well.

The second thing we can take from the Trotter courtship is that the 49ers don’t seem to be all that enamored with the three players currently competing for the “ted” spot. Sure, Jeff Ulbrich would provide the veteran savvy needed at the position. But the position also calls for a big body that can withstand a 16-game pounding. Ulbrich’s heart is certainly in it, but he is not a banger and has been nicked by by injuries in recent years. Besides, the 49ers have big plans for Ulbrich both in nickel defensive packages (which are used quite a bit) and on special teams.

Newcomers Dontarrious Thomas and Larry Grant also will get a shot at the job. Thomas has the most ideal body type, but he had a reputation in Minnesota for running around blocks instead of taking them head on, which is what the position requires. Nolan and co. already have been hedging their bets on Thomas, saying he’ll compete at “ted” but that he also could be used as a back-up at all four linebacker spots. Grant, meanwhile, weighs just 235 pounds and is a seventh-round draft pick. He certainly could be the 49ers’ future “ted,” but thinking he could play there in 2008 might be too ambitious.

Trotter’s visit also seems to say that the 49ers aren’t all that confident in landing Spikes, who has several suitors. Spikes is taking his time in choosing which NFL city is best for him. The 49ers, meanwhile, look as if they want to solve their “ted” conundrum quickly.

Some of you have inquired about Mark Washington, the inside linebacker whom the Dolphins plucked off the 49ers' practice squad last year. Miami waived Washington, but the 49ers say they are not interested in re-aquiring him.

-- Matt 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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