Mike Nolan liked having control over his defense. (Just ask Billy Davis). At no position did his desire for oversight manifest itself more than at safety. Nolan went through a number of safety combinations before settling on one he liked - Mark Roman and Michael Lewis - in 2007. That duo didn't force a lot of turnovers, but it could be trusted to be in the right place at the right time. And for Nolan, that was paramount.
Mike Singletary seems more willing to let his players make plays. It's why he tapped Dashon Goldson to start at free safety this year and why he gave his blessing to Dre Bly potentially replacing Walt Harris at cornerback. The second part of that equation, however, is that playmakers sometimes give up big plays. And it will be interesting to watch Singletary's reaction when that inevitably happens this season.
- Lewis Baker. 6-2, 202. An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma in 2008, Baker got off to a good start with the 49ers last spring but injured his thigh early in training camp. He didn't practice from that point on and was cut. Baker has good size and was both a linebacker and safety with the Sooners. That seems to make him ideally suited for the 49ers' strong safety position, which is essentially a quasi linebacker-safety. Baker should make strides in his second camp with the 49ers. His problem is that the team has two other young safeties in Reggie Smith and Curtis Taylor they are trying to develop. One of those two seems destined to be the team's fourth safety; the other for a spot on the practice squad. That doesn't leave Baker in a very good position. His best bet is to leapfrog Taylor.
- Dashon Goldson. 6-2, 200. I've written a lot about Goldson over the past few months, which I'll summarize thusly: He has the potential to be a very good safety, dare I say even a Pro Bowl safety, because he specializes in the attention-getting aspects of his job - interceptions and big hits. All that potential, however, doesn't amount to anything if he's hurt. And so far in his career, Goldson has been hurt. A lot.
Goldson suffered injuries to both shoulders in college and began his senior season at the University of Washington with a high-ankle sprain. He dealt with an elbow injury right off the bat as a rookie with the 49ers. This past season, he left the Week Two game at Seattle with a knee injury, had to leave the Week Three game against Detroit with a shoulder injury, then left the Week Seven game against the Giants with a knee injury (PCL) that knocked him out for the next seven games. Which leads one to question whether we'll be seeing Goldson and all his play-making potential at free safety this year or whether it will be Mark Roman again.
- Michael Lewis. 6-1, 222. In 2008, Lewis suffered a badly bruised knee and an elbow injury. In Week 12 against Dallas, a Cowboys player took his legs out from under him and he suffered a tear in his abdominal wall, an injury that got progressively worse as the season went on. At one point, merely getting out of bed was an ordeal. So how many starts did Lewis miss last season? Zero. One of the veteran leaders of the defense, Lewis toughed it out for the full season even though the 49ers had no realistic shot of making the playoffs.
Which is to say that Lewis is quietly one of the toughest guys on the team. Lewis was still receovering from those injuries this spring and never took part in any team practices. However, he still attended all of those practices. He finished second on the team in tackles (he tied with Takeo Spikes) in 2008, the second straight season he was No. 2 in that category. Along with Goldson and Patrick Willis, he also is among the candidates to wear the radio receiver for the defense this year.
-- Matt Barrows