The San Francisco 49ers didn't have the greatest of secondaries in 2011, but I do have to admit that, individually, most of the players played far beyond what I expected of them. Donte Whitner, Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers were on fire all season, with Whitner being my underdog pick for defensive MVP given his leadership abilities and how ... fast he looked out there. I never considered him one of those players.
Either way, you guys were mostly satisfied with the safety position in 2011 and don't consider it a big priority to improve in 2012. I personally voted that it was a big concern because Goldson is a free agent and I think people don't take that into account. Do you value Rogers highly? Well he's a free agent and as such, it's a position that the 49ers need to address. Then again, maybe I interpret the voting differently.
Either way, Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver, Curtis Holcomb and Shawntae Spencer are under contract heading into next year. Culliver and Holcomb were rookies, and while the former will be competing for a starting job, the latter will be looking to prove his usefulness anywhere he can. Spencer is a wildcard because I doubt he'll be back in 2012, as he was inactive for nine games this past season and I don't see the 49ers paying him $3.2 million. Tramaine Brock is the other free agent at the position along with Rogers, but he's exclusive-rights and I expect the 49ers to bring him back. Let's get to it.
I was happy with how Niners Nation viewed the interest and eventual signing of Rogers. Despite his issues snagging interceptions with the Washington Redskins in 2010, many of us here were excited to have him, especially given the fact that he's much better than Nate Clements. Still, it was easy to see the despair of Redskins fans over his inconsistent hands and it was easy to be nervous about him coming to San Francisco.
Apparently, Ed Donatell knows how to instruct a player on how to close his fingers around a ball, and Rogers had a great season. He didn't drop balls and he played very, very well in man-to-man coverage, taking on the slot guys where applicable. The only time I recall him seriously being beat on a consistent basis was the playoff game against the New York Giants. Unfortunately, that was the most important game, but it was really only the first half he screwed up on.
Rogers is getting up there in years but he seven season into his career, he just gave us his best season yet. He's more than deserving of a long-term contract, because he played like a top player at the position.
There are times when I'm a big fan of Brown, and there are times when I legitimately want him off the field entirely. There was less of the latter this past time out than in prior seasons, but he's still a guy who gets lost on a somewhat consistent basis. Brown doesn't pass off his guy very well at all and is frequently out of position pre-snap. Sometimes I wonder if Brown dedicates himself to film study and practice as much as other players, because his awareness pre-snap is among the worst on the team. He doesn't put himself in smart situations to guard corners.
All that being said, Brown does have a lot of big play potential. He's very athletic with great closing speed, and I'm reminded of two or three different times in 2011 that his receiver broke off and went to catch a sweet short pass, only to have Brown launch himself over the guy to deflect the pass away. He's also very good with the ball in the air and was a solid starter on that side in 2011. The biggest question will be whether or not he can get better this offseason under the current staff and, if so, if it'll be good enough to beat Chris Culliver, who will want to start.
By week five, Culliver was the starter at nickel corner - pretty good for a rookie that played safety in college and didn't have a real offseason with which to work with. He wasn't mistake free, and there were certain receivers that just abused him. His biggest flaw was his propensity to get beat on seemingly easy moves that would put him way out of range to actually prevent a big play, but it didn't happen consistently, and he did rise to the occasion against a number of top-level corners. Culliver exceeded my expectations and he'll want to battle for a starting role in 2012.
He kind-of/sort-of was the starting nickel corner for awhile and wasn't bad when on the field. He suffered a broken hand and didn't factor much into the defense after that, leading most to think he didn't get his fair shake. I'm going to abstain from that talk because I, for reasons I can't explain, am not a fan of his. I don't think he's all that great and it probably has something to do with him using a roster spot under Mike Singletary while important guys like Michael Robinson were lost. That being said, he will be competing for the nickel spot next season once the 49ers tender him as an exclusive-rights free agent, which I'm sure they'll do. A bad outing against the Giants in the playoffs doesn't help my opinion of him!
One of my favorite players on the team, but Spencer is getting up there in age and really, the only compliment I can give him anymore is that the man knows how to cover Larry FItzgerald. He's solid when he's on the field, but he suffered two hamstring injuries in training camp and had a case of turf toe when he saw the field. Even when other 49ers CBs were hurting, Spencer remained inactive for half of the 49ers' games this past season, including two healthy scratches during the playoffs. I can't see him being on the team next year, given his salary.
It's likely that Holcomb was drafted mostly for special teams, but I actually knew more about him than I did Culliver coming into the season and thought he has some potential at the cornerback position. It's possible the 49ers intend for him to be a safety, but he'll spend the offseason and training camp trying to show the 49ers that he's valuable, seeing as how he missed the entire season due to injury. I think he is, but we'll have to see.