Looking at roster projections for the 49ers, one sees depth at most positions. There has been much talk regarding which 3 quarterbacks we will keep. We looked stocked and deep at wide receiver and running back, and have capable back-ups, in Person and Leonard Davis, for example, for offensive line. On defense, Grant is a proven capable back-up at ILB, and, similarly, Haralson is a known commodity at OLB. While any loss of Justin Smith or MacDonald would hurt, because they are so good, there is more than adequate depth for the defensive line.
The 49ers are scheduled to face a number of very good quarterbacks this year. The secondary will be tested. Base cornerbacks Brown and Rogers are strong, and Cox and Culliver as 3rd and 4th cornerback suggest we are deep there as well. The situation at safety is less reassuring. Last year's defense became particularly effective only after around game 5 or so when both Goldson and Whitner were healthy. Last year's back-ups, Smith and Williams, were decent in coverage, though not very effective in run support. More to the point, they are gone. At back-up safety, Spillman is untested. While he is a bulldog on special teams, he has never played a down, to my knowledge, as a safety in a true coverage situation. (Last years snaps for him were in short-yardage goal-line defenses exclusively). Trenton Robinson is a rookie 6th round pick. What can he do, how effective would he be as a replacement safety? Then there are Michael Thomas (small and gritty, perhaps good in coverage?), and Darcel McBath, a 2nd round pick in 2009 who has played safety for Denver.
Given the quarterbacks we expect to face this year one cannot help but wonder what the niners would do if either Whitner or Goldon is temporarily unable to play. I see 2 possible schools of thought. One is to use best coverage player available from both the safety and corner pool, with the thought that Willis and Bowman are so good at stopping the run, that a true safety is not necessary. While everyone (well almost everyone) loves Whitner and Goldson big hits, the best coverage player at back-up might be the way to go. This could possibly lead to Cox or Culliver being utilized as back-up base safeties. The other, more conventional route, would be to stick with the actual safety pool, which would presumably start with Spillman and include possibly Robinson (rookie), McBath and Thomas. Who stays, who goes? What is our plan if Gold or Whit is injured? How vulnerable would we be to an elite quarterback? What is our nickle secondary? Can Splilman cover? Are Robinson or Thomas ready for NFL coverage and safety duties? Do we need to keep McBath? What have you seen so far in the preseason that might help answer these questions? What do you expect to see Thursday night in the last preseason game?