What's more important to a 3-4 defense, a shut-down cornerback or a pass-rushing linebacker? The question is currently being debated in 49ers circles because the team might have to choose one when it comes to the seventh pick in the draft.
Today Vic Fangio weighed in on the issue. Speaking to the media for the first time, the 49ers new defensive coordinator said it not only was important to have one of both. Ideally a defense would have two of both. That is, depth and balance is more important than having a rock star at any one position.
"If you have one great corner, yeah, maybe they'll stay away from him," Fangio said. "But they've got to go to the other side now and see how good he is. So obviously one's better than none and two's better than one. The same thing when it comes to the pass rush. They can chip guys, double-team guys, try and manipulate the protection and maybe handle one guy."
As a case in point, Fangio said that Green Bay coordinator Dom Capers, with whom he coached for 16 seasons, was lucky in finding two excellent, young cornerbacks in Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Because they are such good cover corners, Fangio said, it allowed Capers to be more versatile when it came to the pass rush.
When he first entered the league almost 25 years ago, Fangio said defenses had the advantage. Zone blitzing had begun to take over the league and offenses didn't know how to handle them. Now as Fangio prepares to re-enter the NFL, the offenses have the advantage. It used to be that a quarterback would throw the ball when he saw a receiver break open. That's not the case any more with quarterbacks letting go of the ball well before receivers have made their breaks, throwing back-shoulder passes and otherwise targeting receivers who 25 years ago would have been considered well covered.
"The qualifications for being open have expended over the last 25 years than where they were when I first came into the league," Fangio said. "The passing game is definitely a whole lot more complicated and diverse and spread out."
Fangio said he has not studied a lot of film on the players he inherits on the 49ers because he wants to formulate his own opinions. He said he's mostly looked at the team's pending free agent, a group that includes nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy, inside linebacker Takeo Spikes and defensive end Demetric Evans. Safety Dashon Goldson and defensive end Ray McDonald are expected to be restricted free agents.
Asked about his pass rushers, it was interesting that Fangio cited Ahmad Brooks - "He played some for them last year and showed some potential," Fangio said - before starter Parys Haralson. "Obviously, he's a guy that has some ability," Fangio said of Brooks. "But he hasn't done it to this point. And we have to figure out why he hasn't done it on a consistent basis. Can he or can't he?" The only other outside linebacker under contract is Thaddeus Gibson. "We're searching," Fangio said.
Reporters also met for the first time with offensive coordinator Greg Roman and special teams coordinator Brad Seely.
• All three men said they were preparing as if there would not be a lockout beginning March 4. That is, they are concentrating on free agency and paying special attention to their own soon-to-be free agents. Roman said that to his knowledge he could not have any contact with players if there is a lockout nor could he give them playbooks to study.
• Both Roman and Fangio said they would spend game days in the coaching booth. Roman declined to talk about how much of the play calling Jim Harbaugh will handle on game days, but it's safe to say that both will call plays at times.
• Asked whether Ted Ginn will be available for both punt and kick returns, Seely said the goal was to get the ball in Ginn's hands as much as possible, including on offense. He said that all special teamers would have competition, an indication that Kyle Williams will push Ginn at punt returner.
-- Matt Barrows