49ers Questions Marks: Cornerbacks

As we approach the season, the extent of my "positional previews," has included the kicking units and the coaches.  Not exactly rocket science.  However, I decided that for the rest of the team, we're going to mix it up a little bit.  Using today's position as an example, we all know that Nate Clements is the #1 cornerback on the depth chart.  It's no secret.  So, rather than put together a general preview covering every one of our cornerbacks, I wanted to look at specific players and situations that need to be addressed.

Today we'll be talking about our cornerbacks.  After Nate Clements, Walt Harris is the likely #2 following a Pro Bowl season last year.  Assuming he stays healthy, Shawntae Spencer is no worse than the 3, although I wonder if he is able to nudge his way back into the starting lineup at some point.  Walt Harris is coming off a monster season, but I am not sure if we can expect another season like that.  One positive to Spencer being the 3rd corner is that the less time he spends on the field, the less likely he is to hurt himself.  It's sad but true.  I think he's got a world of talent, but it seems like annoying injuries limit him some of the time.

Obviously Spencer will be on the field in nickel and dime situations.  In the NFC West, where big receivers are coming home to roost, you certainly can't have too many good corners.  Two questions emerge out of this then: 1) Does Shawntae Spencer move past Walt Harris on the depth chart at some point this season?  2) If not, do you see any sort of platoon situation occuring with Harris and Spencer, among others.  Harris turns 33 on Friday (Happy Birthday Pro Bowler) and is certainly no spring chicken any more.  Shawntae Spencer on the other hand is only 25.  The good news with that is that even if he is in a more reserved role this year, he's young enough to put this experience to good use down the road.

The second area I want to look at is the potential battles between Marcus Hudson, Tarell Brown, Donald Strickland and Dashon Goldson.  I fully expect Goldson to get playing time at both safety and corner as he has had success in college at both positions.  Most of us agree that Tarell Brown could turn out to be a steal of the draft if character issues don't sprout up and he shows the talent he has.  I'm a bit more curious to see Hudson and Strickland this preseason.  Both are relatively young and while Strickland is going from potential to reality (entering his 6th season), Hudson will be entering his 3rd 2nd season and brings solid size and speed to the table.  At 6'1, 200 lbs we could definitely use that kind of big body to compete with the likes of Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Torry Holt among others.  When we need to roll out a 3rd and 4th cornerback, he certainly provides a viable option.

In the last few seasons, the depth at pretty much every position has been non-existent.  Due to that, the secondary was always rather weak when facing the many talented receivers around the league.  The addition of Nate Clements and the drafting of Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson will provide the cornerback position with unheard of depth. The addition of Clements alone allows us to push people further down the depth chart and reduce responsibilities.  Even if Spencer spends the entire season as the 3rd cornerback, it shows how much deeper we are that we can allow that to happen.  I've always been a big fan of Spencer and hope he can win back a starting job.  However, I'd be just as excited with this secondary to see him rolling out in nickel type situations.  I think our secondary will grow from a real weakness in past years to one of our bigger strengths this season.  That's not a wild prediction, but one that definitely already has me sleeping easier.

The next question mark we'll address: the infamous backup running back position (and we'll try and avoid any discussion of Michael Bush).....

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