The San Francisco 49ers front office has kept 49ers fans curious with their acquisitions and most recently with signing of often-injured linebacker Tavares Gooden. The 6'1, 242-pound 2008 third round draft choice by the Baltimore Ravens has yet to make a name for himself in the league. And it is not because of lack of talent but the mere fact that he has missed 22 games in his first three seasons.
Unfortunately, I believe when a player is injury prone, he will always be injury prone. His rookie campaign was cut drastically short when he missed the last 12 games because of a hernia. In 2009, he missed 4 games due to a concussion and groin injury. And last year, Gooden dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum. It would seem that it's only a matter of time before his achilles goes.
I liked Gooden coming into the league because beside the fact that I am a Ravens fan on the side, I can tell Baltimore knows what they are doing when it comes to linebacking. They hold a high standard over there when it comes to defense, and it has resulted in a spectacular reign for years led by Ray Lewis.
The way I see it, Gooden wasn't talented enough for the John Harbaugh and the Ravens to look past all of the blemishes on his medical record. The same case may be true for his brother Jim if Gooden can't stay healthy from here on out. However, I do believe that Gooden has the potential to contribute to a team when he is in good health.
Ray Lewis spoke highly of Gooden in 2009 during an interview with Sal Paolantonio: "Tavares is the one, that is so aggressive...Tavares, man, is a fast, fast, fast learner. And the beautiful part about him is that if you give him a play, or an adjustment, he's got it! And that's what excites me about him. Tavares is one of those special ones."
That is a compliment and observation from one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game. Jim Harbaugh didn't bring Gooden in for no reason, this is not a man who does things for no reason -- Gooden is going to have a legitimate shot. I wouldn't expect significant time with the defense this year, but perhaps easing him in slowly as a special teams contributor.
In 2009, Gooden started 12 games at linebacker next to Lewis, recording 49 tackles. He was a pretty efficient tackler, and excelled in pass coverage; valuable traits the 49ers could use from their linebackers.
I'm comfortable with Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman as our starting inside linebackers. Gooden is still raw enough to play any linebacker spot, and the only place he may have a future in with San Francisco is at outside linebacker. It is likely that he will get reps on defense but I would expect him to be spending most of his time with special teams coordinator Brad Seely.
Gooden is an intelligent and versatile player, which seems to be the new running theme in the Bay Area. The biggest concern with him is of course, the susceptibility to injury. This is why it makes sense for Gooden to primarily work with the special teams in 2011; it would allow him to readjust to the NFL at a controlled pace -- rushing players back on the field after injury is a great way to get them back on IR. If he stays a 49er, watch his progress because he could finally reach his potential given a clean bill of health.
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