Maiocco: Player-by-player look at 49ers defense

August 2, 2011, 2:48 pm
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Aug. 2, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have completed just three practices in training camp, including just one with full pads. But that won't stop us from an early camp progress report on every player under contract. Here's a look at defense and special teams:

Defensive linemen (9)
Justin Smith: When defensive coordinator Vic Fangio says there are only two or three defensive players who have already earned their spots, Smith is obviously one of them.
Isaac Sopoaga: He came to camp and learned he would be switching to nose tackle. But he has been unable to practice, as a hamstring strain has kept him out of action.
Ray McDonald: Signed on Friday, can't practice until start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4. Slated to be the team's starting left defensive end.
Ricky Jean Francois: He is lining up with the first-team defense with Sopoaga unable to practice. He looks to be playing with good leverage and is further along than he was a year ago at this time.
Will Tukuafu: He is benefitting from the transition rules as much as anybody. With McDonald unable to practice, he is seeing all the first-team reps at left defensive end.
Ian Williams: Fangio says after watching Williams a little bit that he fits into the "This guy's got a chance" category of undrafted rookies. The question is whether he'll be able to hold the point at nose tackle in the NFL at his size. He is getting second-team reps.
Sealver Siliga: The undrafted rookie from Utah is currently getting few reps as the team's No. 3 nose tackle at practice. And this is before Isaac Sopoaga, penciled in to be the stater, has been cleared to practice.
Brian Bulcke: The undrafted free agent is the only player on defense who played for Fangio at Stanford. Bulcke has been getting second-team reps at left defensive end.
Demarcus Dobbs: The undrafted rookie from Georgia is lining up with the second-team defense at right defensive end.Linebackers (13)
Patrick Willis: The 49ers know what they're going to get with Willis, so they were quick to remove him from Sunday's practice when something didn't feel right. Whatever ails Willis -- it looked as it was something with his left foot -- doesn't figure to keep him out long.
Aldon Smith: The 49ers' top pick is lining up exclusively at right outside linebacker behind Parys Haralson. But, as Fangio points out, "That can switch. One guy can go over to the left side one day and vice versa, so we don't know exactly how we are going to play our guys, if we are going to stay left and right or if we are going to be in a mode where we are going to flip them. It's way too early for that." As is the case with all of the 49ers' outside linebackers, Smith will move to defensive end when the 49ers go with their nickel defense, which features a four-man line. Smith showed up well in one-on-one pass-rush drills, as he made easy work of rookie Mike Person with a swift inside move.
Navorro Bowman: He is the clear front runner to be the inside linebacker who plays alongside Willis. Bowman is getting all the first-team reps, and looks as if he has a much better handle on the position with the experience he got from a year ago.
Parys Haralson: A primary starter since 2007, Haralson is one of the returning vets who must earn his starting job with the new coaching staff. Currently, he's atop the depth chart at right outside linebacker, but rookie Aldon Smith is closing quickly behind him.
Ahmad Brooks: Lining up with the starting unit at left outside linebacker. Brooks gathered in an interception during 7-on-7 drills Saturday. If he can nail his assignments in the class room, he has a good chance to see an increase in playtime.
Larry Grant: Three-year pro who started eight games for the Rams last season signed on Sunday. He can't practice until start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4. Will compete for Takeo Spikes' old job.
Antwan Applewhite: Signed on Sunday, a day after the 49ers lost Travis LaBoy to the Chargers, Applewhite takes the opposite route. He can't practice until start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4.
Keaton Kristick: He has been getting second-team reps at inside linebacker alongside McKillop. And when Willis was held out of Sunday's team sessions, Kristick stepped up and got many valuable first-team practice time.
Scott McKillop: Cleared to participate fully in the first day of camp after sustaining torn left knee ligament and tendon that ended his season in training camp a year ago. He is working with the second team as an inside linebacker, and he intercepted a Jeremiah Masoli pass on Sunday that was deflected off running back Kendall Hunter's hand. It's been a good start for camp.
Thaddeus Gibson: Claimed off waivers last season from the Steelers, he is taking part in his first 49ers camp. He lines up left outside linebacker with the second-team defense behind Ahmad Brooks.
Monte Simmons: Undrafted rookie from Kent State is behind Ahmad Brooks and Thadeus Gibson on the depth chart at left outside linebacker.
Kenny Rowe: He's in the same situation as Simmons, getting third-team reps. Rowe has been playing right outside linebacker.
Alex Joseph: After practicing Friday, he was held out Saturday and Sunday due to an undisclosed injury. He has been watching practices from the field.Defensive backs (15)
Shawntae Spencer: The starting right cornerback grabbed at his left hamstring after turning and running with a receiver on a deep route on one-on-one drills Sunday. He was held out for the remainder of the day's activities.
Reggie Smith: He appears to be the most at ease of the 49ers' defensive backs. He made the top defensive play of the first three days, when he ranged from the middle of the field to intercept a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Lance Long 25 yards down the field on Sunday. Of the guys on the field now, he clearly looks like a starter.
Madieu Williams: The seven-year veteran agreed to a one-year deal with the 49ers on Monday. He will not be eligible to practice until the start of the new league year. His addition to the team should not impact whether the 49ers' thinking about free-agent Dashon Goldson, who remains unsigned.
Taylor Mays: He was with the second-team defense on Friday, but he worked Saturday and Sunday with the first unit with C.J. Spillman ineligible to practice. He has yet to make any plays on the ball.Tarell Brown: With Nate Clements' exit, Brown gets the first shot at left cornerback. He held up well in his first three practices, as he hopes to put himself into a position to hang onto a significant role when (or if) reinforcements arrive.
Chris Culliver: He has gotten off to a very strong start in training camp with several passes defended. He is working with the second team at left cornerback, and he's also been practicing kickoff returns.
Tramaine Brock: He stepped in Sunday to play right cornerback with the first-team defense when Spencer was held out.
Phillip Adams: He is returning from a gruesome broken ankle -- the same injury Giants catcher Buster Posey sustained. Phillips is practicing with the second team. He gave up some plays on the first day of camp, but looked good Sunday during the team's first padded practice with an interception of a Jeremiah Masoli pass.
C.J. Spillman: Signed as an exclusive-rights free agent and practiced Friday. He lined up as a first-team safety. However, the special-teams ace is not eligible to practice until the start of the new league year. The league excused the mistake and will not punish the 49ers.
Curtis Taylor: He simply looks intimidating and much bigger than listed 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. Taylor was better Saturday than he was Friday, as he runs now with the second-team defense after being with the third-stringers on the first day.
Chris Maragos: Running with the second-team defense, he recorded a pick in Saturday's practice.
Colin Jones: The sixth-round draft pick has not gotten much action. That's to be expected. His envisioned role is as one of the core special-teams guys.
Curtis Holcomb: Ruptured his left Achilles in conditioning drills on July 28, thus ending his rookie season before it ever began.
Corey Nelms: The undrafted rookie from Miami is lining up at right cornerback on the third team, so he's not getting many team reps.
Anthony West: The undrafted rookie from Nebraska has a lot of work to do in a short period of time, as the practice snaps have been sparse.Specialists (4)
Andy Lee: One of the best in the game is unchallenged in camp.
David Akers: The veteran signed on Saturday to replace Joe Nedney, who has announced his retirement. Akers can't practice until the start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4.
Brian Jennings: He's been so consistent through the years, so it's noticeable when he produces a high snap in a live field-goal drill that results in a missed kick. No reason to panic.
Fabrizio Scaccia: With David Akers signing a three-year deal, one would think that Scaccia has little chance at a roster spot. But he has a strong leg and looked under control while connecting on 7 of 8 field-goal attempts during a live drill Sunday. He'll try to carry it over into the exhibition season so he can at least get a chance elsewhere.-Rookies