49ers

49ers Mailbag: Is Tarvarius Moore a starter? Is Dante Pettis a No. 1 WR?

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49ers Mailbag: Is Tarvarius Moore a starter? Is Dante Pettis a No. 1 WR?

While organizing my notes from 49ers practice on Thursday, I narrowed down the defensive play of the day to two possibilities.

One was a Tarvarius Moore interception of a Jimmy Garoppolo pass in the end zone. The other was a play that Moore ranged from the middle of the field to the left sideline to break up a deep Garoppolo throw intended for tight end George Kittle.

Moore has arrived as a free safety, and he was the subject of several questions for this edition of 49ers Mailbag, as the team opened the exhibition season on Saturday at 6 p.m. against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium:

-I predict that Tarvarius Moore will be named a starting safety by the end of training camp. What are your thoughts? (Patrick Tulini)
-Why is there any question that Tarvarius Moore is the starter? (Joseph B Ryder)
-I asked earlier in the year is it possible for Tarvarius Moore to start at safety you had previously told me you didn’t think so. What do you think now between him and Adrian Colbert? (Joseph Foster)

Moore has passed Colbert on the depth chart. That is not a surprise. After all, we all knew Moore was a talented athlete and the 49ers thought highly enough of him to invest a third-round pick in him in the 2018 draft. He is back at his natural position after spending his entire rookie season at cornerback.

When 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said early in camp that Moore was a long way from being an NFL starter, he was not talking about his physical skills. Moore still has a lot to learn about the position and NFL offenses. The free safety – the eraser – has to be on-point with his assignments. If he blows an assignment, it's six points.

That is why I continue to believe Jimmie Ward will be the 49ers’ starter when the regular season opens. But I also believe Moore is just one play away from stepping onto the field with the first-team defense.

-What’s the deal with Dante Pettis? Is he a true number 1? (Daniel Flores)
-Is Deebo beating out Pettis? (Thomas Alvarez)
-What are your thoughts on Jalen Hurd and how do you feel he could fit into the O? Slot? Outside the numbers? (Philip Withers)
The 49ers do not have a No. 1 receiver. Let’s clear that up right now.

Could Pettis or Deebo Samuel eventually become a No. 1? Perhaps. But, right now, I’m not sure the 49ers have a classic No. 2, either. They might have a bunch of 2.5s and 3s. That’s OK. Coach Kyle Shanahan should be able to work with that.

Pettis has been solid in training camp. I would not classify him as a disappointment. But he should be stepping up and making more plays. That was clearly the expectation for him after last season. Pettis needs to play with more urgency and aggression. That is why rookies Samuel and Jalen Hurd have stood out on the practice field. Both play the game hard.

Samuel plays the X, and Pettis plays the Z. So those two are not necessarily in competition, other than competing for the attention of the quarterback on every play. Samuel has put together a very promising camp.

[RELATED: Jalen Hurd showing aggression as a pass-catcher]

Hurd is really coming on strong. When camp began, I thought Hurd would make the team but he might be inactive for the entire season as he learns how to become an NFL wide receiver. But the guy has a certain nastiness (in a good way) and determination to him that could enable him to become a significant player from Week 1. Hurd can be used in a variety of ways, both outside and in the slot, which gives Shanahan more flexibility to exploit matchups.

As camp opened, I expressed the opinion that slot man Trent Taylor would be the team’s leading wide receiver – at least when it comes to the number of receptions. I stand firm in that belief.

-Who is going to get the most time at RB? (Khalil Cox)
If you’re talking about the regular season, Tevin Coleman.

If you’re talking about tonight and the entire exhibition season, no question that person is undrafted rookie Austin Walter of Rice.

There’s no reason for the 49ers to subject Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert to unnecessary risks. And Jerick McKinnon certainly will not see any action in the exhibition season.

-How is Kentavius Street looking and might he have a role this year? (Jeff Bratton)
Street looks pretty good, but so does just about every defensive lineman on the team. Street will be on the 53-man roster, but it is going to be difficult for him to earn a spot in the rotation during the regular season.

-How are the book sales doing for LETTERS TO 87? (Evan Holm)
Things are looking great, and thank you for asking. The early numbers are so promising that there is already going to be a second printing.

For more information about the book – such as how to buy it and upcoming book events – check out LettersTo87.com. I appreciate all your support. And, remember, 100 percent of all royalties from the book go to the Golden Heart Fund.

49ers roster analysis: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020

49ers roster analysis: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020

This is the seventh installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020 and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Today, a look at the 49ers’ linebackers.

Under contract (signed through)

-Kwon Alexander (2022)
-Fred Warner (2021)
-Dre Greenlaw (2022)
-Mark Nzeocha (2021)
-Azeez Al-Shaair (2021)
-Joey Alfieri (2021)
-Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (2021)

The 49ers and Alexander agreed to a contract restructure in November that saves the team more than $8 million in cap space for the 2020 season. His salary is set to leap to $12.55 million in 2021. Three voidable years were added to his contract. He is still scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2022 season.

Expiring contracts

-Elijah Lee (RFA)

Lee was among the 49ers’ final cuts and was signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster for the final eight games of the regular season after Alexander went on injured reserve. Lee saw action in each of the 49ers’ three postseason games as a core special-teams contributor.

What needs to happen

The 49ers’ only real decision is with Lee, who is a restricted free agent. The lowest tender of $2.144 million is probably too much, but the 49ers can look to re-sign him to a minimum level contract.

But even with some uncertainty surrounding Lee, the 49ers appear set with their starters and backups. The 49ers certainly do not need to spend free-agent money to add a player. And they do not need to use one of their top draft picks to bring in a linebacker, either.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: Work needed to keep up defensive line dominance]

Expectations

This position group is comprised of players who are all ascending. The unit was good in 2019. It should be better in 2020.

Warner was one of the breakout stars for the 49ers as a second-year player. He had an interception of Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl that looked, at the time, to be one of the big plays in that game. Warner believes he can make improvements in all areas, including the production of more game-changing types of plays.

Alexander sustained a torn pectoral in the middle of the season. Then, worked hard to get back for the playoffs. Although he settled back into the 49ers’ defense as a part-time player, Alexander still served an important role on the team due to his leadership and energy.

Greenlaw became an every-down player after Alexander’s injury and made one of the most memorable plays of the season when he stopped Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister just inches short of the goal line to preserve the 49ers’ Week 17 win to clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage in the playoffs. It will be difficult to keep Greenlaw off the field.

Al-Shaair, who defied the odds to win his roster spot last season as an undrafted rookie, and Nzeocha are solid backups and core special-teams players, too.

NFL free agency: A.J. Green would fit 49ers, but health risks are real

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NFL free agency: A.J. Green would fit 49ers, but health risks are real

A.J. Green last played in an NFL game on Dec. 2, 2018. He injured his toe in that game, and underwent season-ending surgery shortly after.

Green then missed all of last season, as the Cincinnati Bengals' star receiver dealt with an ankle injury. And yet, he's one of the biggest names set to hit free agency next month.

So, should the 49ers take a run at signing the seven-time Pro Bowl pick? Talent-wise, yes. But it's not that simple.

Green, who turns 32 years old on July 31, has played in just nine games in the last two seasons. He has missed 29 games since 2016 and isn't getting any younger. But he's also one of the most talented receivers in the league when healthy.

The former No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft started his career with five straight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards. He was well on pace to extending that streak in 2016 when he had 964 receiving yards in 10 games and then had 1,078 in 2017.

San Francisco simply doesn't have any receivers with Green's kind of pedigree. Deebo Samuel opened eyes as a rookie, and he is dangerous with the ball in his hands. The 49ers have to add talent around the young South Carolina product, though.

Green also is the kind of large target that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan hopes to give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Samuel is listed at 5-foot-11 and 214 pounds. Green, however, is 6-4 and 210 pounds.

One NFL executive believes Green hopes to move on from the Bengals this offseason, too. 

"I think he wants out of Cincinnati," the exec told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. 

That, however, isn't in Bengals coach Zac Taylor's plans

"He's a guy that we're excited about to have part of this team, first and foremost. That’s what matters right now," Taylor said Thursday in his interview on the '"Bengals Beat Podcast." "As we go through the offseason, we'll figure out how it best fits. But right now, we expect him to be a part of the team. We want him to be a part of the team.

"He's certainly been a valuable member for the last couple years and done some great things. I'm excited to coach him, really for the first time this next season."

Green signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Bengals in 2015. He will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time this offseason, and the veteran still could sign another hefty contract. The same executive told ESPN that "even 'B' receivers are getting $14 million to $15 million."

The 49ers currently have just under $17.9 million available in cap space this offseason, according to Spotrac. San Francisco also has its own contracts to take care of in free agent Arik Armstead, as well as extensions for George Kittle and DeForest Buckner. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers could add Gabriel to receiver mix this offseason]

One way or another, the 49ers should look to give Jimmy G more weapons this offseason. This year's NFL draft class is loaded with receivers, and the front office could make that their priority with their first pick. There's no doubt Green could be a great option in free agency, but it all comes down to health.

"As long as the foot checks out, he's still elite," an NFC personnel evaluator said to ESPN.

That's a big if, though. Green is one talented question mark.