The 49ers struck pay dirt when they drafted Patrick Willis in the first round in 2007. But they've been striking out when it comes to finding a young counterpart to play "ted" linebacker next to Willis' "mike" position. They passed on one draft pick, Larry Grant, a seventh rounder in 2008 who now starts for the Rams. A free-agent acquisition, Dontarrious Thomas, didn't work out. Scott McKillop, a 2009 pick, didn't get good reviews his rookie season (although he was having a strong offseason before tearing his ACL in August). And it's clear that after initial optimism on third-round pick NaVorro Bowman, coaches have cooled on him as well.
After rotating with Takeo Spikes early in the season and playing a lot of third downs, Bowman was limited to special teams during Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers. Mike Singletary today said he and his staff were still optimistic about Bowman and rookie safety Taylor Mays, who also has seen his playing time shrink, but that their veteran counterparts, Takeo Spikes and Reggie Smith, give the 49ers a better chance to win right now.
"I think what it comes down to is that you're trying to win football games," Singletary said. "If Takeo is feeling good, and if he wants to play, we'll let him play."
The truth is that Bowman has made mistakes while Spikes has played consistently well and has been better in pass coverage than expected. He's also avoided the injuries that have slowed him down in recent seasons. Meanwhile, Smith had a solid game at safety and at this stage is better than Mays in pass coverage, especially deep pass coverage.
"The last thing I want to do is lose him," Singletary said of Mays. That is, the coaching staff is wary of the young players making too many mistakes early in their careers and ruining their confidence.
-- Matt Barrows