I want to drill this into your usually-receptive skulls: Moran Norris was not a terrible player in 2010. That is to say, he did do his job more often than he did not do his job, but there was still a huge wave of inconsistency washing over him, coupled with a middling level of execution when he was doing what he was supposed to. Meaning that, while he did what was required of him in the offense most of the time, he didn't do it all-that well. He'd get in there and make a block, but it wasn't always the best block to make, and I saw all three of Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon having to make adjustments solely because they didn't trust Norris to make his block. Sometimes it was unnecessary, and he actually made his block, but when your halfbacks are making adjustments because they don't trust you, there's a problem.
The thing about Moran is, he still appears to be in peak physical condition. He's big, burly, and seems to move as well as he's always been able to move, which has been surprisingly well for a man of his bulk. His trouble this past season seems to be entirely mental. The mistakes he's responsible for are almost exclusively due to him just missing a hole, not having good awareness to lead a running back behind him and things of that nature.
That's what I said in the Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward post regarding fullbacks, and I stand by it. Norris really is the prototypical fullback in size, strength and athleticism. He actually has decent hands and I like it when he runs the ball, so long as he has some space to work with, because he really does hit hard. As I also noted in the post, he just hasn't been the same since he went 0-16 with the rest of the Detroit Lions in 2008, which I guess we can't blame him. I just picture him coming back to the 49ers with a blanket around his shoulders, looking like a refugee. Quiet. Stone-faced. A man shaken by trauma, he softly would mutter in the locker room, no longer a boisterous and colorful person. Other players would whisper, and always speak to him politely and slowly. "Hey Moran ... wanna go hang out with the rest of us?" Bless their hearts, including him in their comradery. But he'll never want to go.
Ladies and Gentlemen, that's what Detroit does to you.
On a serious note, I graded Norris somewhere in the 'C-' range last year, and I stand by it. We can do a lot worse than Moran Norris, and if he returns in 2011, I think he will have a decent year blocking, but I'm not sure if he'll fit as well into Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman's offense as he was supposed to in Jimmy Raye's. It will be a power running attack, but they might be looking for more athleticism out of the position going forward.
So, how do we define the confidence levels? I suppose we have to include outliers for diehard fans of Norris, like his family and friends. A '10' would indicate that Norris returns to his 2006 form and dominates out there, simple as that. Voting a '6' would say that you think keeping Norris is a good idea and that he will fit better here and overcome his 2010 woes under better coaching and a better offense - just a serviceable starter who does his job well. Something like a '4' would imply that you really don't have confidence in the guy, but he's better than a lot of options out there. Anything below that is varying degrees of "please go back to Detroit." For the record, I'm right around a '5'.