Ranking the San Francisco 49ers' Top 11 Players on Defense (2 of 2)
Yesterday, I wrote an article on the Top 11 players on offense (preseason edition).
If you missed it, it can be seen here:
Today, we will turn the attention on over to the defensive side of the ball.
Vic Fangio has sounded like a guy that will never be satisfied. It sounds as though he believes that every player always has room to improve; even if that guy is Patrick Willis. Yes, he said it. I was shocked too.
Anyhow, this is walking a fine line. Players are going to either embrace it or rebel. We already saw it last year as Mike Singletary lost the team by yelling and screaming at them for every tiny detail.
It all depends on how it is done.
A good balance of yelling and rewarding typically will work much, much better. Hopefully, Fangio will find the right combination.
With that, let's move on to the rankings. With so much turnover on defense in the offense, please take these selections with a grain of salt as it is a bit more difficult to do than the offense without seeing a lot of them play.
11. Navorro Bowman
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On most depth charts, Bowman has been listed as the starter. Although, the coaching staff says there are about seven position battles going on in the offseason, Bowman seems to be the front runner playing next to Patrick Willis.
In the limited time he has played, the second year veteran had issues in coverage last year. The most significant that comes to mind was the touchdown grab against rookie tight end for the Chiefs, Tony Moeaki.
If he can get a better handle on the game mentally, he has the athletic ability to be a very good player next to a future Hall of Famer in Willis.
Bowman is ranked at the bottom here, but by seasons end, he could very well be much higher on the list than 11.
10. Isaac Sopoaga
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It could be a good thing in that Sopoaga will be moving over to nose tackle considering his lack of speed. He was beat on the edge more times than can be counted on both hands last year.
In playing at the nose, he will have a lot better opportunity to utilize his strength and ability to push offensive lineman around.
Ricky Jean-Francois will be the back up to start the season but if Soaps does not produce positive results and RJF outplays his competition, we could see a change of heart by the 49ers' coaching staff.
Nose tackle is going to play a very significant role this year. Patrick Willis lost a great player in Aubrayo Franklin, so one of the two guys mentioned above will need to be on top of their game.
Right now it seems as though Sopoaga is the front runner for the starting job but this will with no doubt be one of those positions being battled out for in the preseason.
9. Reggie Smith/ Dashon Goldson
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With Dashon Goldson coming back to the 49ers, this increases the competition at the safety position. On the surface, it appears that the competition will be between Reggie Smith and Goldson for the remaining safety position. Donte Whitner should wrap up the other spot with no problems.
Goldson has always considered himself a "Hawk". However, some fans feel and have felt at times that he plays the game more like a wounded "Hawk". He, in the past, has given up some crucial plays in critical situations. He will need to make major strides this year with Reggie Smith waiting in the wings (broken wings at that).
Reggie Smith has yet again shown solid performances in the offseason and has yet again inherited another injury. He always shows such promise and disappoints with an injury. The good news is that he will only be out for roughly 4 or 5 weeks. The bad news is that the position he will be fighting for could go to Goldson by default.
Reggie Smith is the defenses version of Michael Crabtree in terms of the offseason.
Anyhow, there won't be much to watch at the safety position outside of Madieu Williams and Dashon Goldson.
I suppose we could always entertain the idea of Williams if he can show his neck will not be a problem as well, eh?
8. Chris Culliver/ Shawntae Spencer
I promise, it is only sweat!
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This should be another battle in the preseason. The 49ers will be full of them this year.
Rookie Chris Culliver has shown heaps and heaps of potential in the offseason. Hopefully it will transfer to games.
This selection came as a surprise to most fans during the draft and most fans were not very pleased. However, the dial was cranked to the right and fans are now signing a new tune.
I personally would love to see him get some time with the first team so that he can get a few looks against the likes of Drew Brees.
Shawntae Spencer's career has had about as many ups and downs as a roller coaster at Six Flags. He has never been a consistent force out there. 2009, was probably the best season he has had and yet, it was still a bit spotty.
With a new regime in place, and a much more positive atmosphere, either one of these players could step up and be a bit more big time than what we have seen in years past.
My money is on Culliver. Call it a hunch, call it what you will but he has been impressive thus far.
7. Ray McDonald
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Ray McDonald is here for more than just his contract extension.
In the packages he was used in, he was a maniac. He can get after the quarterback but did much better when he had that fourth guy with his hands in the dirt next to him.
This could be the most interesting player to watch on the preseason. He has ability, that is evident by his limited performances. But the issues have been his conditioning. The biggest question will be if he can go all four-quarters.
With Justin Smith on the other side, and potentially a bunch more blitzing schemes, McDonald could be nearly as effective in the pass rush as the rest of the bunch.
My concerns are when he faces the run. He tends to get pushed back and handled a bit easier when in a 3-4.
Hopefully he can quickly learn a couple things from Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula so that he has the upper hand in going up against most of his competition.
6. Ahmad Brooks
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Fangio's outside linebackers are going to be getting after the quarterback much more this year opposed to previous years.
Ahmad Brooks has shown the ability to be a force at the outside linebacker when strictly going after the quarterback.
On top of that, he has shown progress over the last couple years in run support.
Overall, he played inconsistently though. I just wonder how much of that was a reflection of poor coaching, or his true ability, or some sort of combination of both?
We will see shortly.
Parys Haralson could easily find his way in to the rotation as well. However, I have viewed his game as being pretty vanilla. He doesn't really dazzle you with spectacular plays. In most fans eyes, he has played like a back up.
Under a new coaching staff I guess anything is possible.
5. Aldon Smith
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It may be a bit premature to put Aldon this high up. And yes, there may be a little bit of homerism going on here. But with all the positive words from teammates and coaches, it sounds like he can be a force immediately.
He has done well in coverage against players like Vernon Davis. And he has pushed around quality linemen like Joe Staley. Now his technique is probably somewhat raw still. But this looks really good on the surface.
There is still the reality though.
The reality that fans will with no question be yelling at their televisions to Smith. There will be a lot of happy and angry moments with this player. He will no doubt make some rookie mistakes.
Just remember... "Patience".
I believe Aldon Smith has that "special quality" that coaches look for in every draft.
This coaching staff (specifically Fangio) will get the most out of Aldon Smith. In a couple years time, we could easily see him sitting next to our number one defender of this list at number two.
4. Carlos Rogers
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It wasn't ever DeAngelo Hall that was locking up opposing teams wide receivers, it was Carlos Rogers. Yet Rogers never received that number one attention because he was locking it down and forcing quarterbacks to throw toward Hall.
The main difference between Hall and Rogers was the ability to catch the ball. From what I have read and heard through the grapevine, is that Rogers has hands like fryin' pans.
Who knows though? Maybe he just needs a warmer climate to thaw out his hands.
His tackling ability is said to be as good as Nate Clements' was. So in that regard, it sounds like we certainly could have found ourselves an upgrade here.
In practice, he has actually caught some passes thrown his way to take it back the other way. But in the good words of Allen Iverson, "We talkin' 'bout practice, practice?" followed by, "C'mon".
He will get his opportunity to show us he very well deserves this post though coming up real shortly and throughout the preseason.
But I have no reason to doubt this ranking here.
3. Donte Whitner
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I don't think Whitner has really maxed out his potential while playing in Buffalo.
In any case, he will be one of the most well-rounded players out there.
This is exciting news for Niners fans across the world.
Even if he were to take on a poor man's role of either, we should see a ton of production from this very above average safety.
With so many possible changes to the secondary, it's safe to assume that Whitner will hold down his own back there; and in run support or playing in the box as well.
2. Justin Smith
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There are not too many pass rushes as potent as the one Justin Smith presents.
He is a Pro Bowler. Not only is he a Pro Bowler but he is a damn good one.
On some other teams, Justin Smith could easily be a number one on a list like this. I put him in company with players like Jared Allen and others similar.
"Cowboy" as most of his teammates call him, does not seem to be running out of steam as players of his age sometimes will. In some instances, I think of the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". In every season, he just seems to get younger and more fierce.
His knowledge of the game shows up on gameday. His motor never shuts down. And he plays the game with passion as evidence of bumping in to a referee and getting tossed from the game last year.
Look for Smith to play better than he even did last year. With the increase in blitzes and more aggressive defensive philosophy, Smith will be set up for yet again another Pro Bowl year.
1. Patrick Willis
Bamm Bamm, P-Willy, P52... all names that Willis has inherited over the last few years
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As if you didn't already know who would be #1.
As things stand right now, if Willis continues playing the way he has for the rest of his career. And has as long a career as Ray Lewis has in Baltimore, he will be wearing a gold jacket and speaking in front of hundreds in Canton, Ohio some day.
Patrick Willis is not only the leader on defense but is looked at as the leader of this team. Nobody ever questions his talent. I mean, okay, there are a few but they are complete hacks.
If Fangio can round Willis' game out in elevating his pass rush technique, he will hands down be the best backer in the entire NFL. In some folks mind, he already is.
Time will determine where Willis ultimately winds up. But as things stand, he will go down as one of the greatest 49ers to ever play the game. If he gets much better than he already is, he will likely be considered one of the greatest of all-time.
What is he thinking about? He looks hungrry.
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Similar to yesterday, I will borrow a piece from the Jerry Springer show...
I really love Vic Fangio's potential.
I really hope that he remains the 49ers defensive coordinator for a long, long time... assuming he does well in San Francisco.
I really hope that he is able to mold the defense as he is trying to do in modeling schemes after the Steelers and Packers. Both those teams have been good for a really long time now. If he is successful, then the 49ers could be set up with the same kind of success.
I really hope that this defensive team gels together as a single unit and plays unselfishly.
Most of all, I hope the 49ers finally will have a winning season.
Enjoy the game tomorrow no matter the results...
And in the good words of Jerry Springer, "Take care of yourself, aaand each other".