With the addition of Madieu Williams and Donte Whitner as free agents from the Vikings and the Bills, respectively, and then the surprising return of last year’s starter Dashon Goldson, the Niners appear deep at safety.
Considering the team’s performance last year when it came to defending the pass (24th in the league), this is a good sign. It has to be determined who fits more of the “strong” safety role (battles tight ends, gives run support) and who is the “free” safety (plays a deep center field on most coverages).
Reggie Smith, now injured, appeared to have that position locked up. Goldson might have it by default, but an eight-year veteran like Williams has plenty of knowledge of NFC receivers. He has 12 career interceptions; Goldson had four in 2009, only one last year. Goldson has a little size on Williams and Whitner; he’s also capable of big-play tackles, which he demonstrated more frequently in ’09 than last year.
All three have to learn new schemes under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Whitner has said he feels very comfortable in the multi-scheme defenses of Fangio. We’ll see if that translates to the field. Goldson has to overcome his disappointment in not landing a free-agent contract.
It’s a battle that comes down to performance.