Taylor Mays has grabbed all the headlines since being drafted in April, but don't forget about Reggie Smith. The former third-round draft pick's importance rose a little bit in January when fellow safety Dashon Goldson switched agents, hiring Drew Rosenhaus to represent him. At that point, the 49ers were trying to sign Goldson to a contract extension, something they had typically done with promising, young talent. Goldson, however, wants to be among the highest-paid safeties in the league, and he hired Rosenhaus to make him just that. (To be fair to Rosenhaus, the 49ers felt Goldson's previous agent was asking for too much, too).
As I've written - exhaustively, it seems - before, the 49ers have all sorts of contract questions looming this year. They will not be able to retain all of the players due for new contracts, of which Goldson is one. The 49ers would love their future safety duo to be composed of Goldson and Mays, two young, big, fast, rangy and aggressive players. But it's entirely possible that the future tandem instead will be Smith and Mays.
Smith originally was drafted to be a physical, on-the-line-of-scrimmage cornerback, and that's the position he played as a rookie in 2008. He was switched to safety last season - he had played both positions at Oklahoma - and that stunted his development a bit. Still, he has a very nice size-quickness ratio, and he was around the ball an awful lot last offseason, a good sign for a young safety.
Smith is a year ahead of Mays in terms of learning that position. But both - as well as last year's solid seventh-round pick, Curtis Taylor - need all the work they can get at training camp this season. That likely means the team can't give Mays quite the crash course they would have liked and why he promises to take quite a bit more "visual reps" with the sage of the defensive coaching staff, Johnnie Lynn, this offseason. I wrote about that process here.
In June Lynn said the 49ers have the luxury of not having to start Mays right away at a position at which the team typically has taken its time with rookies. "You can hurt the team by not being right," Lynn said of a safety's mental responsibilities. "So now we give him a chance to put his training wheels on so he can learn a little bit."
Because it takes a while to develop young safeties and because of the uncertainty among the 49ers' starting safeties - starter Michael Lewis is 30 and his salary is creeping upward - the 49ers very well may keep all of their young safeties on the 53-man roster this year, although Taylor still has practice-squad eligibility. Look for undrafted rookie Chris Maragos, who teamed with Mays to compose the third-team safety duo this spring, to be another practice-squad candidate.
The 49ers will hold their "State of the Franchise" event tonight in Santa Clara. Both Mike Singletary and personnel chief Trent Baalke will speak, and there will be an impromptu media session with them afterward. Check back here tonight -- or for the slightly less avid fans, tomorrow -- for what they said.
-- Matt Barrows