Maiocco: Uncertainty abounds on 49ers' defense

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Maiocco: Uncertainty abounds on 49ers' defense

July 13, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com

They have no playbook, thus they have not been getting together in large numbers during the NFL lockout.The 49ers' defense includes four starters -- and one potential starter -- up for free agency. The defense has been the strength of a team that has not reached the playoffs since 2002, yet there is a lot of uncertainty on that side of the ball for the 49ers.
During the lockout, most of the attention has been on the 49ers' offense. Twenty-five offensive players got together at San Jose State over a two-week period of work, known as "Camp Alex." Unsigned quarterback Alex Smith received a copy of the playbook from coach Jim Harbaugh and has served as an adjunct to the coaching staff during the lockout.
Meanwhile, defensive players have been largely working out on their own, waiting for the lockout to end and the work to begin.
While the 49ers' offense appears largely set, there are a lot of unanswered questions about the defense for a change.The 49ers are prepared to lose nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and outside linebacker Manny Lawson in free agency. If they can re-sign defensive end Ray McDonald, the 49ers appear set with Isaac Sopoaga moving back to nose tackle, and McDonald taking over as a starter at left defensive end. The 49ers plan for rookie Aldon Smith to slide into the lineup at weak outside linebacker, where his primary duty will be to get after the quarterback.The 49ers expressed a desire to re-sign veteran Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, but the club also selected NaVorro Bowman a year ago in the third round to eventually team with Patrick Willis on the inside.The most interesting decisions will occur in the 49ers' secondary. The team selected cornerback Chris Culliver in the third round. Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer are under contract, but the 49ers were not satisfied with Clements' coverage or Spencer's tackling last season.
If the 49ers make a big splash in free agency, it figures to be with an eye on cornerbacks with such players as Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph, Ike Taylor, Richard Marshall and Antonio Cromartie set to hit the market.Safety is another interesting spot for the 49ers. Their best defensive back, Dashon Goldson, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. He'll get a nice contract. But will the 49ers go high enough to retain him?In Trent Baalke's first draft, the 49ers invested a second-round pick on Taylor Mays. Certainly, Baalke envisions Mays as a starter sooner than later. The 49ers' coaching staff appears to be keeping an open mind about all the players."This is a young player, going into Year 2," 49ers defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said this offseason of Mays. "That's when a lot of guys spike, especially when you're a high-profile guy like he was. If you think about that first year, it's a whirlwind. He got some valuable playing time. I see a lot of traits. He should spike in this system."Mays started six games at safety last season, but the previous coaching staff determined he was not yet ready to handle the coverage aspects of the job. Reggie Smith started the final seven games after replacing Mays in the lineup, and he was generally solid.It's also possible the 49ers could shift Culliver to safety if Goldson does not return.The defensive coaching staff is going to be working against the clock to figure all this out -- and determine the best way to improve the 49ers' No. 24 ranking against the pass from a year ago.Do not expect new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to try to make the 49ers' defense something it is not. Would he like to employ a pressure defense like what his longtime associate Dom Capers has done in Green Bay?"We'd like to," Fangio said this offseason. "He (Capers) fell into two really good cover corners (Tramon Williams and Sam Shields) besides (Charles) Woodson. So that allows you to be comfortable to be more of a pressure team and not have to be kind of tricking them all of the time. You do what your players allow you to do."Donatell said Fangio will adapt to the players on the 49ers' defense and he will play to their strengths."He's going to do what fits," Donatell said. "He's going to do the amount (of blitzing) he has to do for us to be successful. And I don't know what that is right now. And he doesn't, either. We haven't put our hands on our players."The biggest thing, he is great at playing the hand he has," Donatell said of Fangio. "And there's great evidence of what he was able to do at Stanford in one year. He is a sharp guy at adjusting to what he has. You saw him go right to college football, figure it out and have a great year."

49ers safety Reid endorses LSU safety Adams: 'We'd have to battle it out'

49ers safety Reid endorses LSU safety Adams: 'We'd have to battle it out'

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers already have three safeties selected within the top two rounds of the draft.

But as the organization has considered its options with the No. 2 overall pick, LSU safety Jamal Adams had been in the discussion. Adams recently visited the 49ers, where he and Eric Reid had a chance to catch up with each other.

Reid’s final season at LSU was 2013. The 49ers traded up to select him with the No. 18 overall pick. The 49ers drafted Jimmie Ward at the end of the first round in 2014, and Jaquiski Tartt was a second-round pick in 2015.

In the past 25 years, only two safeties -- Eric Berry (2010) and Sean Taylor (2004) – have been selected in the top five. Both were chosen with the No. 5 overall selection. Adams has a chance to go as early as No. 2 overall.

“I’m excited to see where he ends up. He could end up here. You know what I’m saying?” Reid said on Wednesday at the 49ers’ voluntary minicamp.

“He’s the best one in the draft. Someone will be very happy to have him, I’m sure.”

Adams (5 foot 11 ¾, 214 pounds) is considered more of a box safety. He recorded five interceptions in his 36-game college career, but Reid said he believes Adams can also play free safety.

“No doubt,” Reid said. “The kid can do it all. That’s why they got him projected to go where he is. I believe he could.”

In the 49ers’ new defense, which is based on Seattle’s scheme, Ward is getting a long look at free safety in the team’s minicamp. Ward started at cornerback last season.

After recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid has one interception over the past two seasons. He played 10 games last season before sustaining a season-ending with a torn biceps.

Reid said he is learning a new position but he believes playing closer to the line of scrimmage suits him. He is set to become a free agent at the end of the season as he plays this year with a salary of $5.676 million on the fifth-year option.

“I’m used to being on the back end,” Reid said. “I’m used to dealing with a lot more space. So, really, it’s the run game. And the run fits, knowing the gap schemes, the run (stunts) and knowing where the D-linemen are going to fit and filling the holes. That’s been the biggest difference for me.

“I like it. I’m a bigger safety in this league, so I think it’ll work for me.”

And what if the 49ers select Adams on Thursday evening?

”That’ll be interesting,” Reid said. “We’d have to battle it out. We’ll see how it goes.”

Reid: National anthem protest accomplished goal of awareness

Reid: National anthem protest accomplished goal of awareness

SANTA CLARA – Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Eli Harold, who joined Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem last season, will not continue the protest this season.

Reid said Wednesday they achieved their goal of bringing attention to racial inequality in the United States.

“When we started doing that, our goal was to open up the floor to conversation. I believe we’ve achieved that goal,” Reid said. “So now we just want to move forward and just partner with people that’s trying to make a change.

“We accomplished that goal. People talked about it. I think we raised a lot of awareness about issues in this country. And now it’s time to move on to just affecting change.”

Reid and Harold are back with the 49ers, while Kaepernick remains a free agent. The 49ers have expressed no interest in retaining Kaepernick after opting to sign free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, instead.

“I stay in touch with him,” Reid said of Kaepernick. “I’m rooting for him. Obviously, he isn’t on a team, yet, but I’m rooting for him but hopefully he gets that call after the draft.

“It’s surprising. You see some of the other quarterbacks that have been signed around the league and why he hasn’t been, it’s just unfortunate.”

When asked if thought Kaepernick was paying the price for his protest, Reid answered, “I think so. It’s unfortunate, it’s sad. People want to shy away from him because of media, PR reasons.

“You’re doing something to better the world. I mean, the guy got a plane sent to Somalia to help with the famine there. He’s been doing things that if it were anybody else in a different situation without the anthem (protest), they’d be praising him and giving him awards for it.”