San Francisco 49ers' Off-Season: Three Big Holes Still Left to be Filled

Andy BenschSenior Writer IFebruary 8, 2009

With the Super Bowl come and gone, it is now time to focus on the off-season needs of teams that were nowhere near the Super Bowl. One of those teams is the San Francisco 49ers, who still have glaring needs on both sides of the football.

However, before I delve into their current positional holes they need to fill this off-season, how about taking a look at some of the holes they solidified this past season.

Coming into the 2008 season, the 49ers' offensive line was a mess. The projected group at the start of the season included, from left to right, tackle Joe Staley, guard Adam Snyder, center Eric Heitman, guard Tony Wragge and tackle Jonas Jennings.

The only two linemen that are still projected starters from that group are Staley and Heitman. Through a series of injuries and poor performance, the 49ers offensive line played with numerous different groupings until they finally hit their stride in mid-season.  Not coincidentally, the offensive line turned things around at the same time of Mike Singletary becoming head coach.

Singletary, the tough, in-your-face, game-is-won-in-the-trenches, hall-of-fame linebacker said enough was enough with the offensive line play, and made significant changes.  Former second-round pick David Baas took over at the left guard spot and a few games later, former USC standout and 49er rookie Chilo Rachal took over at right guard.

Granted, the former 49ers starting linemen did not receive any help from J.T. "Mr. I hold on to the ball too long" O'Sullivan, the new-and-improved offensive line group really personified coach Singletary's tough and gritty style.

That being said, the 49ers have four of the five offensive line positions set in stone going into next season. With Staley at left tackle, Baas at left guard, Heitman at center, and Rachal at right guard, the 49ers only need to acquire a right tackle to solidify the group. 

This leads us to hole No. 1: Right Tackle.

Either through the draft (in later rounds, as there are more pressing needs) or through free agency, the 49ers need to find a way to fill this void to create a dominant offensive line.

Switching gears for a moment, ever since the departure of Terrell Owens, the 49ers have not had the luxury of a clear No. 1 wide receiver. The 49ers have gone through the likes of Chad Wilson, Brandon Lloyd, Curtis Conway, Antonio Bryant and other wide receivers that didn't fit the bill. However, regardless of whether or not Isaac Bruce returns next season, the 49ers finally have a solid group of playmakers at the wide receiver position.

With rookie standout Josh Morgan and second-year receiver Jason Hill stepping up huge this past season, the 49ers finally seem to have a strong receiving corps that they haven't had in years.

That being said, with Frank Gore pounding the rock and Shaun Hill quarterbacking this offense, the sole need on the offensive side of the ball is at right tackle.

The defense however, has a couple of glaring needs. First of which is on the defensive line. Hole No. 2 and arguably the most pressing need is a pass-rushing defensive end.

Before the start of last season, the 49ers brought in former Bengal Justin Smith. Smith had a solid season with the 49ers, racking up seven sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Despite Smith's presence, the 49er defensive line was still suspect and at times had trouble garnering an effective pass rush.

Either through the draft, or via free agency, the 49ers need to find a counterpart for Smith. One possibility is free agent Julius Peppers. The former Carolina Panther defensive end is a four-time Pro Bowler who has put up 70.5 sacks in 106 career games. Currently a free agent, Peppers has showed he wants to leave Carolina and play for a team that runs a 3-4 defense (which is the base defense of the 49ers).

Finally, what I find to be the most pressing need is hole No. 3 for the 49ers, free safety. Incumbent Mark Roman hasn't had an interception in two seasons and is often a liability in coverage. His safety partner, Michael Lewis, who plays strong safety opposite of Roman, is an excellent run-stopper and a heavy open-field hitter. However, Lewis hasn't been able to show his true talent defensively because he has had to compensate for Roman's poor coverage abilities.

Bringing in a free-agent safety like former Ram Oshiomogho Atogwe would do more than just make up for Roman's poor play, but it would also give Lewis more freedom to make plays.  Atogwe has picked off opposing quarterbacks 13 times over the last two seasons while playing in all 32 games for the Rams.

Whether the 49ers address these holes through the draft, or free agency doesn't matter. What matters is that they need to be taken care of if the 49ers are serious about contending for the playoffs next season.