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March 21, 2009
Defensive philosophy: Simplify, simplify, simplify

A year ago, the 49ers were going to be a chameleon on defense - frequently jumping between 4-3 , 3-4 and big nickel defenses and using players like Justin Smith at multiple positions. This year the philosophy is K.I.S.S. - keep it simple, stupid. Defensive players like Takeo Spikes and Justin Smith said today they had high expectations for the new season mainly because of how well the defense played when Mike Singletary simplified things at the midpoint last season. Opposing offenses may not have has as much to prepare for. But the 49ers' defensive players were more confident and they played faster. "I'd expect us to be a Top 10, hopefully a Top 5 defense," Smith said. "That's what we're shooting for."

To hear Josh Morgan explain it, it was as if Isaac Bruce was Obi Wan Kenobi to Morgan's Luke Sywalker. Morgan said he constantly approached Bruce last seasons with questions. Now Bruce isn't around and it's as if Morgan hasn't finished his training. "He was kind of like a second father on the field," Morgan said. Bruce is undecided on whether he wants to return for a second season. Singletary has said he wants a decision by April 1.

Morgan is playing split end again this season, and he said that he wants to become the No. 1 receiver should Bruce not return. Morgan was slowed by several injuries last season, including a nasty staph infection during the preseason. Morgan, who was never hurt at Virginia Tech, said dealing with injuries and maintaining his body - something at which Bruce has excelled - was the most difficult part of his rookie season. In fact, Morgan said he was still rehabilitating a pesky groin injury from last year.

Morgan had lots of praise for new 49ers safety Jimmy Williams, against whom Morgan practiced his freshman and sophmore years at Virginia Tech. "I tell people all the time that Jimmy Williams was the best cornerback I've ever played against," Morgan said. Morgan noted that Williams began his Va. Tech career as a strong safety who wore No. 18. When he switched to cornerback, Williams went with No. 2. When Williams departed for the NFL, Morgan grabbed No. 2.

Lots of talk about the new, more intimidating grass hill that is being contsructed at the 49ers' facility. The hill - perhaps 25 feet high and pretty darn steep - is Singletary's brainchild and is part of the "excellence through hard work" message he is pounding into his team this offseason. Asked if he had a name for the hill, which is two weeks away from being ready for use, Singletary said: Pain.

During yesterday's intense, Marine Corps-like training circuit, Singletary said he was prepared to end the session early when tight end Vernon Davis piped up and said he and and his teammates wanted to complete the task. Singletary said he was very happy with the attitude of the team. They're back out there today ... here's a taste:

03212009101 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

Singletary declined to give injury details for the players who are unable to take part in the minicamp. They are: Tarell Brown, Arnaz Battle, Shawntae Spencer, Michael Lewis, Ray McDonald and Delanie Walker. Singletary did say that none save for McDonald's is considered long term. McDonald had surgery this offseason on the same knee that gave teams pause when he was being drafted in 2007. Perhaps that explains why the 49ers were so hot and heavy for defensive ends - Chris Canty, Kenny Peterson, Demetric Evans - during free agency.

Speaking of Singletary, he certainly didn't win any brownie points with reporters when he said today that his assistant coaches would be off limits to the media until some undetermined point in time. Singletary reasoned that he wanted his assistants focused on preparing for the season, not thinking about what they'd say in an interview. There are a number of teams in the league - the Raiders and Patriots come to mind - that deny access to assistants. The 49ers, however, always have been on the opposite end of the spectrum. Assistants have been available to reporters here for as long as anyone can remember, certainly dating as far back as the beginning of the Bill Walsh era. That access didn't seem to get in the way of five Super Bowl titles. And the heavy media attention Singletary's Bears received in 1985 didn't seem to sidetrack their Super Bowl season. Singletary said the change of procedure had nothing to do with several leaks - presumeably from his coaching staff - that have cast him and the 49ers in a bad light.

-- 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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