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Ten days ago I got in touch with Matt Maiocco about utilizing some of his reader questions to inspire posts over here. Things get quiet in the offseason and I'll take anything I can get for a post. However, he had a slightly better idea: come up with ten of the most pertinent 49ers questions heading into the offseason and link to each others answers. We've had plenty of discussion about many of these topics, but I think it's helpful to consolidate them all for this particular conversation. There are a lot of issues to be addressed this offseason and I know I missed some of them. These are simply ten that quickly came to mind. Below are my answers and you can head on over to Instant 49ers to get Maiocco's take on these questions. Due to the length, the first five questions and answers are on the front page and the final five are after the jump.
I haven't seen his answers yet, nor has he seen mine, so we'll see how they compare. As the offseason moves along we'll see who ends up getting closer in these quasi-predictions. Feel free to provide your own answers, whether it be regarding one of the questions or all of the questions. And thanks to Matt for collaborating on this.
1. Who on the roster has the best chance of being the starting QB heading into week 1 of the regular season?
I'll stick with Shaun Hill for the foreseeable future. Smith has always been a better practice player, but the situation has changed from a year ago. Heading into camp last season, Hill had a very small body of work with which to compare. Although 9 more games isn't a dramatic addition, it's still three times as many games as he'd played in for his career. This should lead to a bit more benefit of the doubt.
Furthermore, although we don't have the details of the Raye/Singletary offense, it can't possibly be as complex as the Mike Martz offense. Combine the complexity of the Martz offense with Hill's practice performances and it was not a great situation. I'd like to think that life would be a bit easier in that regard heading into training camp. In answering these questions, I'm realizing a lot of this ends up more as "hoping" than thinking. Maybe it's "hoping" Singletary makes the right call.
2. Can Shaun Hill overcome his practice woes in the Jimmy Raye offense?
If the offense is not dependent on big plays, I don't see why Hill can't improve his practice performances. Often times a power running game is complimented with a shorter passing game. Hill throws a very ugly deep ball but seems to make the under 20 yard passes with relative efficiency. While we know that Singletary and Raye want a power running game, we still don't know what that means for the passing attack. If it's the shorter game that I think it will be, I see no reason why Hill can't excel in practice and on game day. Consider me an optimist in that regard.
3. Can Frank Gore give Singletary what he wants out of his "smash-mouth" offense? If not, what kind of addition would it take?
Gore proved he could dominate in the ground game in 2006. Although his numbers have decreased each of the last two seasons, it's possible bringing in a new fullback could get him back to his dominant ways. Although most of the free agent fullbacks are getting up their in years, guys like Tony Richardson, Lorenzo Neal and the return of Moran Norris could be great options for 2009. The Martz-led offense used the fullback but really not all that much and simply tried to create hybrid players like Michael Robinson and Sean Ryan. I'm convinced a legit fullback (more specifically, not Zak Keasey) would get the running game further on track. I think a fullback would do that in a way splitting carries with a Deshaun Foster type could not.
4. Is there any hope for Vernon Davis?
Unfortunately (for my psyche at least) I remain convinced Vernon Davis can turn things around in the receiving game. He's shown he can be a beast in blocking, but given his draft status, it's not surprising people want to see more. The freakish athleticism makes it hard to give up on Davis' ability as a receiver. Although Davis is a great option for stretching the field, it seems like he's been more consistent on quick screens and plays out of the backfield. Of course, our own Florida Danny had some interesting thoughts on Davis, as compared to the rest of the receivers, as well.
If the 49ers can utilize him more in those quick hit situations, he might finally reach the levels of production most people want. On shorter plays he's got the size to power over cornerbacks and the speed to get past the linebackers and make big plays, or the proverbial something out of nothing. Maybe it's not as sexy as the deep bombs, but there is nothing sexy about seeing him run an incorrect route or not reach for the deep ball. It'd be great if he was as consistent as a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, but the Duke is not blessed that way. The 49ers, and particularly Jimmy Raye, have to take extra steps to put him in a position to succeed.
5. At what point in the offseason should the 49ers make a move for a QB?
The best time to make the move would be in the mid-rounds of the draft (3rd-5th). If you've been reading Niners Nation even since December, you'll know this has been my argument quite consistently. The Alex Smith issue aside, I think Shaun Hill is a very reasonable option for the next couple of years. He's signed to a reasonable contract for the next two seasons, which would provide a solid training period for the proverbial QB of the future. They could follow the pattern of Houston/Tennessee with Steve McNair or the Bengals with Carson Palmer.
I say Alex Smith aside because until something happens, I just don't know what to expect. It's too much of an unknown situation to make a prediction on. If they work out a new deal with Alex Smith, I think it's safe to say they will not sign a veteran (no matter what, please no Kerry Collins) and instead just grab someone in the draft. If they let Smith walk, I'd fully expect a free agent and a draft choice. Either way, I'd much prefer trying to find a diamond in the 3rd-5th round rough than Mark Sanchez.
6. What three potential free agents are the most realistic for the 49ers to sign?
I actually think that technically the most likely free agent signing is our very own Takeo Spikes. But that's too easy.
Terrell Suggs, OLB/DE: He's a pricey option and the Ravens would love to have him back, but they've got too many free agent issues on defense (Scott, Lewis, Leonhard and Suggs). The 49ers have options at outside linebacker and might prefer to address this need in the draft. However, the cap space will allow them to match most deals and it might make the most sense to go for the young veteran, Suggs. He actually finished with the same number of sacks as Haralson but seems to bring more of the all-around game to match Manny Lawson.
Tony Richardson, Fullback: This could probably just as likely be Moran Norris, or maybe even Lorenzo Neal. The 49ers need a real fullback and I'm pretty confident it will be one of these aged three. I listed Richardson first because of the Jimmy Raye connection. They worked together in the Meadowlands last season, but they go all the way back to Kansas City at the turn of the century (a fitting turn of phrase for Jimmy Raye..hey now!)
Eugene Wilson, Free Safety: I discuss the free safety position twice more (#7, #10) and the more I research, the more I'm curious about Eugene Wilson. MM heard on the grapevine that free safety is a position the team is looking to address in free agency. OJ Atogwe is a great option, but I'd be curious to see what he gets compared to Wilson. Wilson has dealt with injury issues off and on, which certainly can't help his value. As discussed in the Goldson question at the end of this, I'd much prefer Goldson get the job. However, I understand the need for more depth there and Wilson could be that kind of guy.
7. What spot on defense is in most need of an upgrade?
Pass Rush: I was originally going to say that free safety needed the upgrade. However, as much as Mark Roman struggled, the pass rush's inconsistency was even worse. A more consistent pass rush could even solve secondary problems by forcing the QB to throw much faster and before his receivers have run their routes. Furthermore, at free safety you're just looking to replace one player. With the pass rush, there are several areas the 49ers might need to upgrade. That could require a big nose tackle to occupy the middle, a defensive end to occupy the edge, and the speed rusher coming from the outside linebacker position. Guys like B.J. Raji, Everette Brown and Brian Orakpo could provide some answers in the first round.
8. If Malcolm Jenkins is there at 10 do the 49ers go with him, or is Tarell Brown a legit option to replace Walt Harris?
I'm convinced Tarell Brown is a solid option going forward. With their needs along the offensive line and in the pass rush, they have a much greater need for help there than a "luxury" like Jenkins. If the top tackle and pass rush options are not there, then maybe it's worth going best available there. However, given the numbers, it's likely one of OL/OLB options is there. Of course, part of it depends on.....
9. Can Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson provide a consistent pass rush or do they need to make a play for some more well known talent?
Is Parys Haralson a long term answer? After some inconsistent playing time, the promotion of Mike Singletary seemed to get him more consistent time on the field. As discussed above, the likes of Terrell Suggs in free agency, or Everette Brown and Brian Orakpo in the draft, are very tempting. I think Haralson can be a solid pass rush threat but considering he'll be a free agent next year, it is probably a good idea to start pondering a long-term replacement.
Although Manny Lawson is a very impressive athlete, he seems to bring more of the all-around game at linebacker, from coverage to pass rush to stopping the run. Given that and Haralson's free agent status, a Suggs, Brown or Orakpo would make sense at this point.
10. Will Dashon Goldson be able to secure a starting job at some point this season?
I keep telling myself he'll lock up the starting job, but I wonder if it's more hope than reality. Reports out of training camp last summer indicated he was quite the ball hawk, something the 49ers have missed at times. However, he couldn't lock down the starting free safety job early on. When Coach Singletary took over, there was a chance Goldson could have gotten that starting job. Singletary clearly has no problems going with youngsters (see Rachal, Chilo) but the timing killed Goldson. I had never really looked at this before, but Goldson went down with a knee injury in the Giants game. The severity of the injury meant he was inactive for the first seven games of the Singletary era. There was no way he was going to take over the starting job in the final two weeks of the season.
So what does that mean going forward? MM indicated he had heard the 49ers would be looking to grab a free safety in free agency. If they're looking for top-shelf talent, that would indicate a guy like OJ Atogwe of the Rams or maybe Eugene Wilson of the Texans. If they sign Atogwe then I'd guess Goldson would not become the starter anytime soon. If they sign a lesser talent, I think Goldson will secure the job as early as training camp.