Have 49ers improved? Analyzing defense, special teams


Have 49ers improved? Analyzing defense, special teams

Jim Harbaugh has several go-to inspirational sayings.And one of them greets players as they walk from the locker room to the practice field at the 49ers' Santa Clara workout facility. (And I noticed last week that it's plastered along a fence on the Stanford practice field, too.)You are getting better or you are getting worse. You never stay the same.With that in mind, let's take a look at whether the 49ers have improved, position-by-position, with their pre-draft moves.First, we'll look at special teams and defense:Special teams: It was important for the 49ers to bring back return man Ted Ginn and C.J. Spillman, their best player on the coverage teams from a year ago. Free-agent pickup Rock Cartwright replaces Blake Costanzo as a core special-teams player. It's difficult to imagine that 37-year-old kicker David Akers can be as good as he was a year ago, but the 49ers are hoping to settle for fewer field goals, too.
Bottom line: Slight dip because the bar was set so high.Defensive line: Everybody is back from a year ago. It's easy to make an argument that Justin Smith was the most valuable defensive player in the league. And nobody on the team works harder than Smith. He transitioned immediately from the end of last season into beginning his preparations for 2012. He enters his 12th season, and he has to start slowing down at some point. Right? Ray McDonald is entering his prime, and Isaac Sopoaga should be able to duplicate what he did last season at nose tackle. The 49ers did not get much from the backups last season. There should be improvements there. Some combination of Ricky Jean Francois, Demarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams and Will Tukuafu should win the confidence of the coaching staff to find spots in the rotation, thus ultimately making the starters more effective.
Bottom line: Slight improvement.Outside linebackers: General manager Trent Baalke made it clear that the 49ers expect Aldon Smith to be an every-down player in 2012. He played just 48.2 percent of the defensive snaps a year ago. That means Parys Haralson, who played almost exclusively in base downs last season, is currently a backup. Ahmad Brooks returns as an every-down player on the other side. He was hungry last year in a contract year. Now, that he has signed multi-year contract, he has to play with the same urgency. It's a good sign that he's hanging around the Bay Area and working out at the team's practice facility.
Bottom line: This could be an instance where the 49ers take a small step back to move forward, as ultra-talented Aldon Smith will be learning to be an every-down player.Inside linebackers: Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were first-team All-Pros last season. Willis enters his sixth year, and is entering his prime. Bowman had a breakout season. Top backup Larry Grant is unsigned as he remains available on the market as a restricted free agent. Bottom line: Yes, Willis and Bowman will be even better as the starters, but depth is a question.Cornerbacks: Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are back as the starters, with Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock as the backups. It's difficult to believe that Rogers, as an eighth-year player, can be much better than he was a year ago. But Brown, Culliver and Brock should improve with a full offseason of work.
Bottom line: Improvement.Safeties: Free safety Dashon Goldson was tagged as the franchise player, and strong safety Donte Whitner is back for his second season. Behind the starters, the 49ers have nobody who played a down from scrimmage. Reggie Smith is testing the free-agent market, and the team has not placed a high priority on re-signing veteran Madieu Williams.
Bottom line: Slight dip, based on current lack of depth.

49ers add former first-round draft pick


49ers add former first-round draft pick

Former first-round draft pick Datone Jones has signed with the 49ers, he announced on social media late Monday night.

“I’m very thankful & honored to be joining the 49ers,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “Thankful to be back home in California.”

Jones, 27, a Compton native whom the Green Bay Packers selected with the No. 26 overall pick in 2013, started just seven of the 59 games in which he appeared for the Packers over four seasons.

Jones (6 foot 5, 288 pounds) recorded 73 tackles and just nine sacks while seeing action at defensive end and outside linebacker.

The Packers declined to pick up the fifth-year option for Jones, making him a free agent this year. He signed a one-year contract with Minnesota in March and remained with the Vikings until he was released off injured reserve in September after sustaining a shoulder injury.

He signed with the Detroit Lions on Oct. 10, but was released just eight days later after not appearing in any games.

Jones started the final 28 games of his college career at UCLA and moved up draft boards with a 12.5-sack season as a senior in 2012.

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?


Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

After five consecutive close losses and some reason for optimism, it all came crashing down for the 49ers on Sunday.

Rookie Trent Taylor fumbled a punt just one minute into the game. Ninety seconds later, the Dallas Cowboys scored.

And it was over.

The Cowboys steamrolled the 49ers, 40-10, providing a slap across the face to anyone who believed this rebuild of the franchise was trending consistently upward without any complications.

The team appeared to be moving along harmoniously. But on Sunday, there was an incident in which Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon and Ray-Ray Armstrong were seen jawing at each other. Things got heated. The optics in a home blowout loss were not good.

There are plenty of questions, and here are some of the questions from The Day After that were submitted on our Facebook page:

What is the philosophy? Are we trying to win or develop players? Cause it seems you can't do both? (Frank Vega)
The 49ers are definitely trying to develop players. They are also trying to evaluate players. They are looking to the future, and they are not deploying a win-at-all-cost approach this season. They do not want to win an extra game or two this season at the expense of possibly making the team worse for the future.

That is why the 49ers, almost invariably, went with younger players at any position in which there was competition . . . Eli Harold over Ahmad Brooks; Trent Taylor over Jeremy Kerley; Raheem Mostert over Tim Hightower; etc.

It’s why the 49ers made the decision two weeks ago to part ways with NaVorro Bowman, who had expressed dissatisfaction over his reduced role. Bowman was still the 49ers’ best linebacker at the time. But he would not have been on the team next year, so the decision was made to release Bowman now and go with the other less-accomplished players. (The Raiders, by the way, say 'Thank you.')

Rookie C.J. Beathard is now the starting quarterback. Cole Hikutini has moved into the No. 2 role at tight end behind fellow rookie George Kittle. Ahkello Witherspoon is being weaved into the action at cornerback, splitting time with Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson.

The 49ers did not want to create a mirage. They did not want to win any games this season that would be the result of a veteran rent-a-player approach. In that respect, the 49ers have succeeded. The 49ers will be picking near the top of every round in the 2018 draft.

The risk, of course, is that the young players get beaten down so badly that they lose their confidence and their edge.

What do you make of Eric Reid’s move to LB? Is his time with Niners nearing the end? (Peter Chan)
The 49ers no longer use a “nickel” defense. They go straight from their base defense to six defensive backs whenever the opposition puts more than two wide receivers on the field. It’s not a true linebacker position Reid is playing. It’s considered more of a “big nickel," designed to give the 49ers more speed on third downs to cover and run to the ball.

Reid is no longer a starter. What it shows is that the 49ers are sold on Jaquiski Tartt being a long-term answer for the 49ers secondary. The 49ers view Tartt and Jimmie Ward as the starters for 2018. All things being equal, Reid will have a chance to go somewhere else next season and be a starter.

The 49ers are not committed to re-signing him on a deal that extends beyond this season.

Is it a coincidence that the two worst teams in the NFL have the most cap space? (Gary Staebler)
That is no coincidence at all. It is the very reason the Cleveland Browns and 49ers are the only two winless teams in the NFL.

The Browns have $61.6 million in cap space. The 49ers are currently $61 million under the cap. Next year, with carryovers of unused space, the 49ers and Browns are projected to both have more than $117 million in cap room, according to Overthecap.com.

Bad teams do not draft well.

Teams that do not draft well, do not sign their draft picks to lucrative second contracts.

Therefore, teams that do not draft well cannot spend a large portion of their cap space to retain their own players because they have no good players worth retaining.