Found Gold: Young San Francisco 49ers are Holding the Game Ball

Brian O'FlahertyContributor IMay 18, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 13:  Defensive back Dashon Goldson #38 of the San Francisco 49ers against the Denver Broncos on August 13, 2007 at Monster Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Greg Trott/Getty Images)

Planning for “gold,” with Goldson

The 2009 San Francisco 49ers will not have big changes at positions of big need, such as quarterback or outside linebacker; but there are several under-the-radar position changes and training camp battles that could turn “golden.”

Dashon Goldson was not a popular early fourth round draft pick amongst most 49er fans in the 2008 NFL draft (two years ago). Goldson wasn't very well known, nor recognized as a superstar in college football; partly because his pre-draft size-speed numbers were less then stellar and partly because he had some history of injury in college.

That did not stop him from intercepting and knocking away more passes during 49ers practices then any other player on the roster for the last two seasons; and after the less than stellar play of Mike Nolan favorite Mark Roman last season, coach Singletary decided to add a play maker, and penciled in Goldson at free safety.

In fact, Goldson would have had more playing time last season, if he had not been afflicted with a multitude of injuries.

Although the position of free safety is essentially Goldson's job to lose, there are other training camp battles that should prove to be more interesting.

3-4 ring circus

Among the 3-4 defenses in the NFL, perhaps the most renowned defensive line in the league belongs to the New England Patriots. Renowned not just for their Super Bowl rings, but renowned because they are very effective at what they do.

Players like Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Vince Wilfork are especially valuable to a 3-4 defense, because not only do they stuff-the-run, they are also athletic enough to collapse-the-pocket (FYI, the quarterback spends most of his time in the pocket).

This makes the hard, but all important job of the 3-4 outside linebacker much easier to accomplish; because its easier to assassinate the "King," when his personal guard is being mauled by bears.

But what about the 49ers “bears”? Do we have such beasts?

Justin Smith certainly played like one in 2008. He is one of those rare free agents, where most fans agree, he is worth every penny of his contract. Like the 49er legend Bryant Young before him, he can both collapse the pocket and play strong against the run. But a single beast does not make much of a circus.

The 49ers are counting on second year player and first round draft pick Kentwan Balmer to make a big leap after a rookie season where he looked mentally lost. If he can be anywhere near as productive as Justin Smith, the 49ers will have obtained a tremendous upgrade for their entire defense.

I think his chances are good. After all, in the 2008 NFL draft, several scouts described him as, a "dancing bear."

Balmer will not be handed the job however. Depending on where the 49ers decide to ultimately play him, he will have to compete against a bevy of free agents and young players, most notably Demetric Evans, Ray McDonald, and Isaac Sopoaga.

49ers like their Coffee to run strong

In the 2009 NFL draft, the 49ers did not hide their intentions to acquire a running back. Although Frank Gore might be willing to run through a mine field, that doesn't mean the 49ers should let him do it.

The 49ers know that they can't continue to use Gore like a Panzer tank, because eventually he will break down.

Glen Coffee has probably heard more puns about his name in a month than most people hear in a lifetime; but that's not going to stop any time soon, because Coffee has arrived most appropriately, to provide the “boost” this running back group needs.

He runs hard and strong, north and south. Not only is he not afraid of contract, he seeks it out. Like a Frank Gore with presumptuously less talent, he will offer defenders no reprieve as Gore rotates off the field for a breather.

Unabashedly, he has been penciled in as the 49ers backup running back; so grab yourself a cup, Coffee, and run with it.

Walt Harris covering up cornerbacks

Several “under the radar” 49ers defensive backs have had to deal with broken bodies the last few years, but not broken spirits.

Cornerbacks Terell Brown and Shawntae Spencer are not going to dislodge Nate Clements from his 80 million dollar perch in the foreseeable future; but they have a chance to compete for considerable playing time, against cagey but slowing veteran, Walt Harris.

A wise man once said, “This is the 'N', 'F', 'L', which stands for 'Not-For-Long!'”, although this seer was referring to the length of an NFL career, it is also an apropos acronym for fan's memories.

Just before the 2006 season, Shawntae Spencer was signed to a sizable, six-year contract extension. The 49ers were obviously viewing him as a starting cornerback.

That same year, the 49ers acquired Walt Harris, who was an unexpected surprise in training camp, and not only overshadowed Spencer, but surprisingly, earned himself a trip to the Pro-Bowl that year.

The very next year, in 2007, Nate Clements was brought in, which meant Spencer had to compete with last year's Pro-Bowler in Harris, just to remain a starter. They battled it out in training camp, but it would have required a total collapse from Harris, for Spencer to even have a chance at beating one of the team's few Pro-Bowlers, and fan favorites.

Last year, in 2008, Spencer was again looking to compete with Harris for the starting cornerback spot. He did not win it, but the competition was closer.

Unfortunately, Spencer suffered a season ending knee injury during the second game of the 2008 season.

In 2009 Spencer is undoubtedly, looking again at Harris's starting cornerback spot. Harris isn't getting any younger, but there is someone who is younger.

Terell Brown is also coming back from a serious injury; except his injury happened in the last game of his rookie season in 2007, and despite missing much of training camp, he was able to get some quality playing time last season, and he looked exceptional.

Both Spencer and Brown will be competing hard to unseat the older Walt Harris. This trifecta will be a far more intense competition then many observers realize. Don't be surprised if either of these two younger players unseat Harris in 2009.

I'm talk'in bout the man-in-the-mirror

Everything they say Michael Crabtree can do, Josh Morgan DID, in his rookie season. When these two enter training camp, it will be very interesting for several reasons.

First of all, based upon what Josh Morgan did last season, even with a crutch of limited playing time due to a staff infection where he lost 20lbs, the coaches are expecting him to take a big step and be a big part of the offense. Morgan is just too darn talented to sit on the bench.

Second, it will be interesting to see how these two similar players mesh. Both are muscular, strong, quick, playmakers with great body control and hands.

What's more interesting, or perhaps puzzling, is that Crabtree is slated to play the same position as Morgan at “X” (split-end). Puzzling because it seems as though these two mirror-images will get in each other's way by competing at the same spot.

One would expect Crabtree to at least be given a CHANCE to start in 2009, and it would perhaps be even more bizarre, if Morgan loses out, after what he showed last season.

This isn't so much a training camp battle, as it is an enigma. It will certainly be interesting to see how difficult it will be to tell these two players apart during the preseason games.

Its best to steal, when its late

Other noteworthy battles involve whether or not late round draft picks and undrafted free agents, such as Ricky Jean-Francois, Curtis Taylor, Cory Sheets, Alex Boone, Diyral Briggs, and others will be able to stay out of trouble, make the team, and turn into steals from where they were had.

Considering that the 49ers did not pick up any draft picks at offensive tackle or outside linebacker, both positions of need, it would not hurt one bit for the 49ers, if Alex Boone or Diyral Briggs prove the world wrong; because if they can't, it might prove to be more difficult for the 49ers to do the same.


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