As the 49ers finalize their depth chart over the next few days, one position that has had some question marks has been free safety. While Dashon Goldson was figuring out his future, Reggie Smith appeared to be taking firm hold of the position. Then Smith injured his knee and found himself on the sidelines and Goldson returned to camp and appeared to stake his claim to the starting free safety position. He was "working on something" and didn't play tonight, which would is generally viewed as code for "injured."
Somewhere in the mix of all this is free agent addition Madieu Williams. The 49ers signed Williams to a one year contract in what initially appeared to be a bit of a utility and special teams role. He suffered a neck injury in 2008 and one line of thought has been that the neck injury might have led to his decline in effectiveness in 2009 and 2010.
Williams has actually seen a lot of playing time the last two games. Against the Texans he entered in the second quarter and played into the fourth. Against the Chargers he started the game in place of Goldson ("working on something") and played deep into the fourth quarter.
In 2+ quarters of action against the Texans, Williams had five tackles, a forced fumble and some solid coverage on one pass. In almost four quarters against the the Chargers, Williams had three tackles and did not see many passes come his way. Unfortunately for Williams, the biggest Chargers play of the game resulted in part because of a poor angle of attack by Williams.
Ryan Mathews took a handoff in the second quarter and found a monstrous hole on the right side. As he went to burst into the second level, Williams appeared to be running straight ahead and then cutting to his left to go after Mathews. The Chargers running back blew past him and went untouched 56 yards into the end zone.
It was an obvious mistake, but something that does happen on occasion. Given the limited number of chances Williams had last night, it stands out. However, he has managed a solid camp and has worked his way into solid rotational player.
The question becomes who takes that starting position heading into week one against Seattle. There's no word on what Goldson is "working on." Reggie Smith has started running a bit, which is a good step forward, but not a clear sign of how much time is left in his rehabilitation from the torn meniscus. I'm going to guess Goldson will be alright by September 11, but I can't be quite as sure about Smith. While the team would like to get him back on the field, knee injuries are tricky enough that it's not something you force.
Of course, once Goldson and Smith are both back to 100%, you've suddenly got three guys in those two and Williams battling for some kind of playing time. Williams would probably take on even more of a special teams role, but beyond that you'd at least have some nice depth. While none of the three is a superstar, I think all three are bringing something or other to the table that makes them worthwhile.
Given that Donte Whitner appears locked in as strong safety, how do you break down the free safety position at this point?