San Francisco 49ers: 5 Starters Who Must Go in 2012
A team that came within an overtime loss of playing in the Super Bowl wouldn’t seem in need of replacing many starters. And so it is with the San Francisco 49ers.
Out of 22 starting players, eight were named to the Pro Bowl. (A ninth, long-snapper Brian Jennings, was added later.) Indeed, the Niners are solid through most of their lineups on both offense and defense.
But even in paradise (or near-paradise), nothing is ever perfect. The 49ers still have a few weaknesses that they need to shore up. Here are five starters whom San Francisco would do well to replace in 2012.
Michael Crabtree, Wide Receiver
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Crabtree gets open about as often as a bottle of beer in a dry county. His propensity for being covered contributes to quarterback Alex Smith’s near-constant need to run away from people who are big and mean and want to do bad things to him.
On those rare occasions when Crabtree does slip free, he’s only about a 50-50 bet to catch the ball. With a surfeit of talented wide receivers on the free-agent market, the 49ers can do better.
Ted Ginn, Jr., Wide Receiver
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Another wideout with the dropsies is the frustrating Ted Ginn, Jr. He brings to mind the nursery rhyme about the little girl with the curl—when he’s good, he’s very, very good, and when he’s bad, he’s horrid.
Ginn’s saving grace is his ability as a punt and kickoff returner. In today’s era of specialization, there’s nothing wrong with reserving him for that role. The 49ers have shown enough patience with him, however, at wide receiver. As with Crabtree, it’s time to let the marketplace do its magic.
Donte Whitner, Safety
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What’s wrong with Whitner? After all, he’s one of the hardest hitters on the team (witness the way he laid the wood to Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints, knocking him out of the playoff game).
But that’s a symptom of a deeper issue. Cornerback Carlos Rogers and fellow safety Dashon Goldson get to the ball (six interceptions apiece during the regular season). Whitner gets there late and makes up for it with a vicious knock. (His hit on Thomas drew howls, but no flags.)
Plus—although he’s not the only one—he occasionally leads with his helmet, which may cause at the worst, a serious injury, and at the least, an ill-timed penalty.
Alongside All-Pro Goldson, the 49ers need another safety who can make interceptions and not just bone-rattling tackles.
Mike Iupati, Guard
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Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley holds down the left side of the offensive line as best he can, but needs help next to him at the guard slot. The left side, AKA the blind side, is critical to protecting the quarterback because a right-handed thrower like Smith is looking the other way and can’t see incoming defenders.
The Saints exposed the 49ers’ weakness on the left side in the first exhibition game, and although things got better throughout the season, they still need to improve.
A possible solution may be to move Adam Snyder over from the right side to make room for free agent Carl Nicks of the Saints. Nicks’ name comes up frequently when people talk about ways to improve the 49ers offensive line. We’ll see if the 49ers make a move.
Jonathan Goodwin, Center
At age 33, Goodwin has 10 years in the league. Whereas experience is good, a decade of beatings at the center position can wear a man down. Goodwin may be losing a step, and that can be pivotal when a middle linebacker is bearing in.
The solution could be as close as the practice team. Chase Beeler was an All-American center at Stanford on an offensive line that gave up the nation’s fewest sacks in 2010. Beeler is nine years younger than Goodwin, and though not as big (285 pounds versus Goodwin’s 318), he’s probably more agile. It’s time for Goodwin to assume a mentoring role with the promising Beeler, who will enter his second season in 2012.
As an alternative, right guard Adam Snyder can also play center, and moving him over a notch would also make room for someone like Nicks.