The last few days has seen a variety of quotes from coaches that would seem to offer some indication as to what we can expect from certain players. Obviously it's tough to predict performance, but we can certainly develop certain expectations in the meantime. The two players in this discussion are related in their impact on the 49ers defense.
The first player is not all that surprising. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has indicated that Aubrayo Franklin was the starter at nose tackle, with Isaac Sopoaga and Kentwan Balmer getting some practice as backups there. Manusky indicated his thoughts on a nose tackle "philosophy:"
"I think across the board you always want to have a backup player. You don’t want any letdown coming when said player gets hurt or gets dinged up. So, we always have rotations across the board, and with Kentwan [Balmer] and Isaac [Sopoaga] doing a great job behind Aubrayo [Franklin], just from a backup situation, the more players that you have at those positions helps you out."
I know most people here recognize the job that Franklin did last year, but for those that don't, he was really quite solid. His first season was less than stellar, but once they got the right system around him, he succeeded. Whether it's the right system for the 49ers is a question to be answered this year, but it's certainly better than having a useless bum up at nose tackle. Either way, Franklin will be the man anchoring the middle of the defensive line in a role that is quite essential to the success of the 3-4 defense.
The other player, and the one I wanted to get some more discussion on, is Kentwan Balmer. The 49ers 2008 first round pick did not do much of anything last season. In fact, he had almost as many kick returns (as an up man) as he did tackles. Not exactly a great stat. Manusky had some interesting comments on the development of young defensive linemen (in discussing Ricky Jean-Francois):
"I think the hardest position coming in as a rookie is a defensive linemen because it’s all technique – not so much the calls, but more technique. It happens so fast and so quick. Just to relate two guys we have on our team, from Ray McDonald, from his first year to his second year, the improvement he made. Kentwan Balmer, from last year to this year. And they keep on getting better. So, he will. He’s trying."
Although there has been plenty of another news to discuss in the mainstream media, there were two SJ Mercury News articles discussing Kentwan Balmer: one in Dan Brown's blog and one by Ann Killion. Balmer has definitely been a guy held up as evidence against Scot McCloughan, even if it's only been one season. In discussing Balmer, Singletary had a variety of interesting comments:
On his first scouting report on Balmer: "’Very raw?’ That was an understatement,’’ Singletary said, shaking his head. "You kind of look at him and you think, ‘Man, OK. I’m waiting."
Late in 2008: "Toward the end of last season, I’m telling you, I can understand what Scot (McCloughan) saw in him because he has a heck of a package and a lot of ability," Singletary said. "I’m very excited about him."
Now: "Kentwan is one of those guys I'm very excited about," Mike Singletary said. "He's made great strides in his maturity and development.
Fortunately Balmer is not oblivious to his struggles:
"My first impression in the NFL was not the impression I wanted . . . You can never make up for lost time," he said. "I've got to make people forget about that first impression."
Given that Franklin is penciled in pretty firmly as the starting nose tackle, Balmer's best chance to break out will be on the end opposite Justin Smith. It's tough to make any predictions given that we have so little from last season to base said predictions on. Of course, that's never stopped us before, so feel free to throw out your two cents on Kentwan Balmer. Given that he's only been in the league for one season, and given the potential early struggles of many defensive linemen, will Kentwan Balmer be able to step up this year?