First off I would like to apologize for forgetting the tight ends in my offensive projections. As far as that goes, I think we will add another TE or two in free agency. Harbaugh LOVES his tight ends, and our current four is unlikely to satisfy him. Look for us to add a guy like Brett Brackett whenever we can start signing people.
I'm starting with the corner position because it is probably the most controversial and the most unknown as far as what the coaches are thinking.
I have to say, I'm very much on the "Nate Clements is a bum" train, but unlike everybody else I will actually explain the logical reasons why I think that. One of our games against the Seahawks (game 1?) Nate bit on the same pump fake TWICE, both plays resulting in a touchdown. As any coach in any profession will tell you, making a mistake is not a problem, it's how we learn. But DON'T make the same mistake twice. I'll come back to this. For now, it's safe to say that Nate almost single-handedly lost that game. I know, I know, the rest of our team didn't play well either. But when your number 1 corner single-handedly gives up 14 points on two bone-headed plays that REALLY sucks the life out of your team. If that was Nate's only bad game I wouldn't be too concerned. But then there was that Saints game where he made a crucial interception late in the game and made the bad decision to try to score, and the second bad decision of not securing the ball. I know, I know, if he had scored it would be a different story. But this a long time veteran in the league. He's not an excited little kid any more. He should know automatically what the situation is (time on clock, score, etc) AND know what he should do in the case of him getting an interception (get on the ground!). Again, he pretty much single-handedly lost us that game. Still, I might have been willing to forgive him for that if he had played well the rest of the season. Yet he was consistently made to look bad. He got burned deep, he got burned short. He made silly decisions that veterans should not make. Teams consistently threw the ball at him instead of Spencer or Brown or even Philip Adams! Worse still, he NEVER made opposing teams pay for doing this. Instead he somehow managed to allow them to get away with it. Spencer is not a fantastic player. Neither is Tarell Brown. Yet teams didn't seem to care much about throwing the ball at them. If they left a guy wide open then sure, teams took advantage. But most of the time it was, "Hey, let's throw the ball at Clements! There's no risk cause he's not going to intercept it, and even if he's draped all over the guy our player is still going to come up with the ball somehow." (The draped all over him thing definitely happened. I distinctly remember a couple of plays where I was left scratching my head wondering how the heck Nate didn't pick it or at least knock it away. These sorts of things tell me that his ball skills are falling apart.) Nate is WAY too experienced to be forgiven for the kinds of dumb mistakes he made or his overall bad play. He's getting up there in age and is only going to get worse from here. If he was a number 3 corner he might be worth a look, but you can't forget his unique ability to make rookie mistakes and single-handedly lose games. He is a huge liability on the field. SO, please, please cut Clements! (HERE is a great example of his sub-par play and a consequent stupid decision to try and make up for it.)
Shawntae Spencer is, to me, an unknown. He had a very solid 2009 season, but he declined a little bit last year. I think he would still be a good number 2 guy, but I can't say for sure. The problem is, I haven't seen teams throw at him consistently. Last season teams picked on Clements so much that it kind of sheltered Spencer. SO Spencer may or may not be that great. We'll have to wait and see.
Tarell Brown is a bit of wild card. Mostly he hasn't lived up to his potential, but he seemed to improve down the stretch last season. We'll have to see what happens with him now that we have a fantastic DBs coach.
Philip Adams looked pretty good in limited action and in pre-season last year. I'm sure he's still a bit raw though, especially having come from such a small school. We will have to see what happens when we stop sheltering him and just let him show what he's got (or doesn't got). I have no idea what the coaching staff thinks about his ceiling. Is the idea of him being a number one or two corner ludicrous to them, or is his ceiling actually that high?
Traimaine Brock is another unknown. I am a bit intrigued him though for a couple of reasons. The number 1 reason is that the Niners have experimented with undrafted corners for a while and never found one they liked. The fact that Brock made the 53 man roster makes me wonder if there's something there the coaches like (and will that hold true with the new coaches?) or is he just a fast, physical guy that's good for special teams?
Chris Culliver could be a Pro Bower or he could be the new voice of the Geico Lizard. Nobody really knows which at this point. He's a bit of a Taylor Mays to be honest. Fast, good size, versatile, talented, coaches had trouble figuring out what his best position was. Because he hasn't played much corner nobody really knows what his ceiling is. He could be a better corner than Patrick Peterson or he could be a guy that never really manages to put it together. Because he was a 3rd round pick I'm going to assume that our coaching staff thinks his ceiling is as a number 1 corner. For now I'm going to trust in this pick for a couple of reasons. A: he's really fast, fluid, good hands/ball skills (former WR) and has very good recovery speed. Our secondary looks like a bunch of old men in wheelchairs compared to this guy. We consistently got burned by fast, shifty receivers last year. Culliver could be the solution to that. As his coach noted, legit 4.3 guys are very hard to find. B: we have one of the best DBs coaches in the entire NFL in Ed Donatell. If anybody can help this kid reach his full potential it's Donatell. C: he was a starter at WR, starter at Safety, and starter at Cornerback. That tells me that this is a legitimately talented kid who is a very fast learner. If he can pick up the Cornerback position this fast then I think he'll surprise a lot of people out on the field. In the worst case scenario, he is at least a very good returner and could replace Ginn (just as fast, possibly just as talented, but younger).
Chris Holcomb could become a good nickel back. He was a seventh round draft pick so I know that we can't expect too much out of him. But he was a good college corner, four time team captain, had 12 career interceptions (something we've been missing for too long), and is going to to go beyond whatever talent he has because of his desire, confidence, and fantastic work ethic. He's also going to be competing in a wide open competition against guys who really haven't established themselves as legitimate starters yet. This competition is likely to bring out the best in him.
Final Word: The cornerback position is wide open. Any one of our guys could be starting day 1. That includes Clements, Spencer, Brown, Adams, Brock, Culliver, Holcomb, and possibly a free agent yet-to-be-acquired. I hope the lockout ends soon so that Donatell can get his hands on these guys and do what he can to bring out the best in them. I hope Nate Clements is cut because of the reasons I listed above. Beyond that, I have no idea what to expect. I don't see guys like Adams, Brock or Holcomb as anything more than a 3rd corner. That leaves Spencer, Brown, Culliver and maybe Clements or a FA to fight it out for the two starting spots. That kinda scares me. What do you guys think?