49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 9, 2008
Q&A: Pondering Thomas Clayton

FYI: I wrote this Q&A Saturday morning and was about to post it when the news about Alex Smith's shoulder broke. Smith should learn his prognosis today and there's a good chance the 49ers will sign Jamie Martin. So check back often ... Oh, check out my prediction in the last Q&A. I swear I didn't alter it. I might have special fortune-telling powers ...

Question: Hi Matt, I don't understand the rationale of letting Thomas Clayton go. Why didn't they try him on punt returns or kickoffs? He seemed to completely outperform Foster. Why would they keep Foster over Clayton?
Dennis, Carmichael

Answer: If anything should be evident from Mike Nolan's four years as head coach it's that he much prefers veteran players over up and comers. (See: Goldson vs. Roman; Dilfer, Trent, etc.) A year ago, I didn't think much of Clayton. He ran too erect (awkward phrasing), and seemed to get tackled too easily. With Frank Gore as his model, he became a much tougher, more straight-ahead runner this year. He's infinitely better than he was a year ago. But is he good enough to be the man should Gore go down this season? The 49ers obviously think he still has more developing to do and would rather give that job to someone like Foster who's been in that starting role before. If anything should happen to Gore or Foster this year, Clayton will be elevated to the 53-man roster.
- Matt

Question: Alex Smith frequently addresses the necessity of a Martz QB having to make quick reads/decisions/reactions (and says he's getting better at it but I don't see that). In your opinion, from up close and personal: since he fails to consistently bypass his 'mental' hangup of pre-processing before reacting, do you honestly foresee him ever really developing in the Martz system?
Sammy, Sacramento

Answer: Smith is a guy who takes a long time to master an offense - just ask Urban Meyer. I think he'll continue to develop in the Martz system but that ultimately it's a bad fit for his style of play. Every quarterback wants to be a starter, and one this season is over Smith and his agent no doubt will try to find a landing spot where he can be a starter again. But perhaps a more slow and steady approach is best for Smith. Maybe he should find a team where he can apprentice for a few years, fully learn the system, and then make a triumphant return when he's in his late 20's. He'd still have a decade of playing time ahead of him ...
- Matt

Question: Hi, Matt. Nolan and Co. seemed to have made up for the busted Alex Smith by obtaining Willis and Staley in last year's draft, so all is forgiven, right? But we still haven't found a longterm OLB to play along side Willis and create that pass rush each team needs to be competitive. If Nolan and Co. knew Wragge would have been this good so far, would they have passed up on Rachal and, maybe selected Groves? And what's your opinion of Lawson? Was he worth the 1st round selection in '06? Thanks for all your hard work.
Marc, Tempe

Answer: You make an excellent point about Wragge. The 49ers now have a glut of starting caliber players at guard and center. The team no doubt will want Rachal to be in the starting lineup at some point, meaning three of the following five players - Wragge, Baas, Snyder, Heitmann and Wallace - would be sitting. ... As for Lawson, I can't shake the notion that he's not 100 percent recovered from his knee injury. Maybe the 49ers kept a lid on him in the preseason and he'll be back to his explosive self.
- Matt

Question: This may be a dumb question, but if Josh Morgan is good enough to challenge the #1 at split end, then why can't he start at one of the other WR positions?
Margaret, Sacramento

Answer: Not a dumb question, and one I'm sure the 49ers are pondering. The question is whether, in Martz's ultra-precise, timing-based passing attack, a rookie would be able to adequately learn another position during the season. There's also an ego question involved. Can you imagine going up to Isaac Bruce and telling him that he's been displaced in the starting lineup by a rookie? ...
- Matt

Question: Am I the only one to notice that J.T. O'Sullivan went to the same college AND high school as 80s Jets QB Ken O'Brien?
Nate, Sacramento

Answer: Yes! Doris, tell the man what he's won ...
- Matt

Question: I read on another blog site that TBC took a pay cut to stay with 9ers. Is this true? How long before Spikes starts?
Michael, San Jose

Answer: Wait, there's another 49ers blog site? If Spikes doesn't start next week I'll be surprised. **updated** I didn't think that Spikes looked all that good Sunday, his special teams blunder not withstanding. What did you guys think?
- Matt

Regarding last week's Q about sports bars, my guy David Fucillo at Niners Nation has started a thread on the very subject. Enjoy tomorrow's game wherever you're watching it. I'm predicting a barn burner with the under/over on total turnovers 5

-- 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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