When asked Wednesday which positions the 49ers would try to beef up in the offseason, Mike Singletary cited quarterback, offensive tackle, pass rusher and safety. He didn't mention "fullback," but after talking about his power-rushing philosophy for most of the press conference, he probably didn't need to. The 49ers played most of the 2008 season without a fullback on their active roster. Zak Keasey won the job over incumbent Moran Norris in the offseason but tore his biceps on Oct. 12. The 49ers replaced him with a couple of tight ends, Sean Ryan and Delanie Walker, but neither spent much time as a lead blocker.
Keasey himself symbolized the gap between the old-school philosophy the 49ers had been using in recent years and the more unorthodox approach of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Keasey is a converted college linebacker, and Martz said that the 235-pounder's ability to get through traffic and make blocks downfield separated him from Norris, who at 250 pounds was a traditional thumper. Keasey also was a better receiver out of the backfield, which was a must in Martz's system.
Both Keasey and Norris, who spent the season in Detroit, will be free agents come Feb. 27. The 49ers always have liked Keasey because he is smart and because he's excellent on special teams. Norris, however, is certainly a better fit in a power running game, and it's interesting to note that Frank Gore still referred to Norris as "my fullback" months after Norris had left San Francisco. Norris was Gore's wingman, and he certainly didn't develop any similar attachments this season.
There are plenty of other options as well. Seattle's Leonard Weaver, another soon-to-be free agent, seems to be a perfect composite of Keasey and Norris. At 242 pounds, he provides some lead-blocking bulk, but he also is a nifty pass catcher, as anyone who watched Seattle's Oct. 26 win over the 49ers can attest. Weaver, 26, has had 59 receptions over the last two seasons and he's averaged 4.4 yards a carry over his career. He's also expendable. The Seahawks used a fifth-round draft choice in April on another fullback, Owen Schmitt out of West Virginia.
Another way in which Singletary has departed from Mike Nolan: It doesn't look as if he wants to coach the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The coaching staffs of the North and South have yet to be announced.
-- Matt Barrows