During today's conference call with Scot McCloughan, the 49ers' GM again said that the team would not make the same sort of atomic cannonball splash it has made in recent years with the early signings of Nate Clements and Justin Smith. They are not firing up the old helicopter, in other words. Still, McCloughan identified a number of areas where the team needs help. For instance:
Quarterback. Reading the tea leaves, it seems that McCloughan feels Alex Smith probably will be back with the team but that a deal is not yet in the offing and certainly won't be done when FA begins. McCloughan said he is not confident enough in Smith's return to ignore a free agent quarterback. That would lead one to think that the 49ers won't target a big-name passer but perhaps someone with enough experience to push Shaun Hill during the offseason. I wrote about someone who might fit that bill in today's Bee.
Receiver. McCloughan said Isaac Bruce's return is still 50/50. "Even if we knew Isaac was coming back, we're going to address the position," McCloughan said. "We're going to add. I think we need to add two good players at the receiver position - guys that can come in this year and help us." The 49ers expect to have nine draft picks this year. It stands to reason that they could draft one receiver who could help this season and add another in free agency. As far as a timeline on Bruce's decision: "Sooner is better for us to know because when we go to camp, we need to know for sure who's on board and who's not on board." It should be noted that whomever the 49ers add at quarterback likely will influence Bruce's decision.
Defensive line. With the draft light on defensive linemen, McCloughan said he expected Ronald Fields to get a lot of attention on the free agent market, including from the 49ers. If they lost Fields, a backup nose tackle last season, the 49ers could slide Isaac Sopoaga from left defensive end to nose tackle. Still, McCloughan said it would be better to keep all the linemen at one position so that they are not rotating. "If we find a defensive end in free agency or the draft that we think can come in and compete for playing time, then we have the luxury of moving Ice (Sopoaga) inside and let him play the nose," McCloughan said. "But also where he is now at left end - we feel comfortable with him being the starter." McCloughan also said he thought that Kentwan Balmer was best suited for left defensive end. Some on the coaching staff believe Balmer could be a good nose tackle.
Inside linebacker. Even though Takeo Spikes has said he wants to return and the 49ers want him back, McCloughan characterized the veteran linebacker's return as 50-50. "The thing he did this year - he put good tape out there," McCloughan said. "I know there are other teams that are interested in him. Again, nothing's for sure even with both parties wanting it to happen."
-- Matt Barrows