If it had been up to him, Greg Manusky would not have started Taylor Mays during his rookie season. But the 49ers former defensive coordinator said that doesn't mean that Mays lacks the talent to be starter at some point.
"I see some promise in the kid," Manusky, who is now the Chargers defensive coordinator, said at the Senior Bowl this week. "He's a football guy. He loves football. I'd rather have those guys on my team because they want to get better."
Mays was a second-round pick in last year's draft, and he became a favorite of head coach Mike Singletary's. After the 49ers began the season 0-3, Singletary made several changes. One of them was firing offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Another was giving Mays more playing time, a decision that miffed then-starter Michael Lewis and prompted him to leave the team that week.
Mays started the next game in Atlanta and the five games after that. But when he began to struggle, especially in deep coverage, the 49ers made another switch and inserted Reggie Smith into the starting lineup for the Week 10 against Tampa Bat. Mays played sparingly on defense from that point forth.
Manusky said it typically takes three offseasons to develop a safety, which is what the team allotted Smith before making him a starter. "When you throw them in there, it's too much for them," Manusky said.
Mays stands out physically. He's 6-3, weighs 230 pounds and recorded one of the two fastest 40-yard runs at last year's scouting combine. But those physical gifts have not translated to football effectiveness. Prior to the draft, Mays was criticized for his inability to change direction quickly and his lack of big plays, especially interceptions, while at USC. Those shortcomings seemed to manifest themselves during his rookie season, too.
But Manusky said he thought Mays could overcome them.
"He's cut a little high," he said. "And VJ (Vance Joseph), Johnnie (Lynn) and myself were trying to get his ass down. I mean, that's where you have your explosion and that's where you have your power. So I think the more he works at it and gets his body down ... Now there's always that point where some guys can only get so low and that's it. But I can see him - he's athletic enough that he change direction and get his body down. And that's where he gets his explosion."
Stanford's Owen Marecic is the top-rated fullback in the draft and Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been turning some heads at the Senior Bowl with his athleticism and strong arm. But the local player who has the best chance of being drafted in the first round is Cal's Cameron Jordan.
That's largely because every team can envision him fitting into its defensive system. The long-armed Jordan stands 6-4, weighs 287 pounds and has played both in a 3-4 and 4-3 system at Cal. He's even stood up and played out of a two-point stance, which has some teams eying him as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
"I'm a defensive lineman, linebacker - I'm whatever you need me to be," Jordan said today. "I don't care. I just want to play football. That's all I really care about. I like putting my hand on the ground, I like being able to hit somebody every play, I like being able to shed somebody every play. I'll run after running backs, quarterbacks - it doesn't make a difference. If they have the ball, I'm going after them."
According to a source at the Senior Bowl, Frank Gore resumed running two weeks ago, a step in his rehabilitation that brought the passionate Gore to tears. Gore suffered a hip fracture in November that ended his 2010 season. He's ahead of schedule with his rehabilitation and isn't expected to suffer any ill effects in 2011.
-- Matt Barrows