49ers Blog and Q&A

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

March 22, 2009
Where the 49ers could use help

Mike Singletary's early minicamp was designed to set a workman-like tone for his 49ers team and to give new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye an early look at his offensive talent. It also revealed that the team still has plenty of holes to fill this offseason. The 49ers are expected to have nine picks -- one in each round and two compensatories -- in next month's draft. The compensatories will be revealed this week.

Pass rusher. Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson are the starters. Haralson led the team last season with eight sacks despite playing full time for only half the season. Lawson, meanwhile, is the heaviest he's ever been and the hope is that his newfound bulk will translate into explosiveness. That alone is a big "if." An even bigger one is depth.

The 49ers said goodbye to Tully Banta-Cain and Roderick Green in the offseason. Ahmad Brooks is now behind Haralson and Jay Moore is backing up Lawson. Moore has had a rocky transition from college defensive end, and he spent last two seasons on IR. If he hadn't been injured last summer he likely would have been cut. He was playing with the third-team defense, after all.

Brooks, meanwhile, is a guy badly in need of the Mike Singletary treatment. He should be an elite talent in the league but lacks focus, drive and work ethic. Which is to say, the 49ers need to add at least one - probably two - outside linebackers to the mix. Banta-Cain is back with the Patriots. Green, however, likely could be added if the 49ers ever were in a pinch.

Offensive line. The 49ers should/must/need to have a better offensive line this year. Joe Staley was making a transition to left tackle at this point a year ago. Now he has a full year under his belt. Eric Heitmann is one of the best centers in the league. David Baas is playing in his contract year, which always brings out the best in a player.

The 49ers gave up a league-high 55 sacks last year, the second straight season they have hit that dubious number. A lot of those sacks were blamed on J.T. O'Sullivan and on Mike Martz's reliance on seven-step drops. But the offensive line hemorrhaged sacks even after O'Sullivan was removed from the lineup and the seven-step drops were eliminated. Over the last seven games, the 49ers averaged three sacks a game, which if extrapolated over the course of the season, still would have given the 49ers one of the highest sack totals in the NFL.

The most obvious problem is right tackle. The team has made an offer to Pittsburgh free agent Marvel Smith, and Smith should decide whether he wants to be a 49er soon. Let's say he does. That wouldn't preclude the 49ers from drafting a tackle in the first round, but it would give them both more wiggle room to go after another position at pick No. 10 and the ability to develop a young tackle taken later in the draft.

Safety. Dashon Goldson and Michael Lewis are the starters while Jimmy Williams is the only backup with any meaningful playing experience. Of course, it's hard to see Mark Roman - he's been given permission to seek a trade -- finding another team on which there is more potential to start than the 49ers. My guess is that he'll be back before the offseason program is over. The 49ers have moved Reggie Smith to safety, which is essentially like taking one in the draft. That move provides depth.

Receiver. Lots of speed but little experience. It also should be noted that the team's top 4 receivers - Josh Morgan, Brandon Jones, Jason Hill and Arnaz Battle - all have been in and out of the lineup with injuries over the past couple of years. The 49ers need Isaac Bruce back.

Defensive line. The 49ers lost Ronald Fields and added Demetric Evans in free agency. What hasn't been accounted for yet is Ray McDonald's knee injury. McDonald had two surgeries to his right ACL in 2005 and the knee was a big question mark in the 2007 draft. McDonald recently had surgery on that same knee and did not take part in the minicamp. Singletary downplayed the injuries to the other half dozen players who sat out the minicamp but said McDonald's was more serious.

Other areas that could use additions between now and September: running back, blocking tight end, inside linebacker.

-- 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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