The 49ers invested a nice little chunk of change in free agents for the second consecutive years and were expecting big things. Justin Smith has delivered as expected, Isaac Bruce has been up and down, DeShaun Foster has not done much of anything, including the hideous fumble yesterday, and we've discussed J.T. O'Sullivan plenty.
Aside from the bigger name free agents, two signings have provided a much greater impact than I realistically expected: Allen Rossum and Takeo Spikes. Both had very solid games yesterday, continuing a trend for both that has lasted all season long.
Thanks to the power of the Internet, you can still see my thoughts on the Allen Rossum signing, way back on March 2:
Allen Rossum - This falls into the "Whatever" category of signings. Hopefully he can make a nice little impact in the return game. While I understand letting Hicks go, I definitely will miss some of his big special teams plays. He made important stops and could set the 49ers up with solid field position on occasion when returning.
Boy was I wrong about that. As mentioned in yesterday's post-game notes and quotes, Rossum is on pace for career highs in both kick return and punt return average. The man is in his 11th season and recently turned 33. For the NFL, that's usually when you start going over the hill and speed is often the first thing to go. For Rossum, it has clearly not been an issue.
There were times in the preseason when he was returning some pretty deep kicks that had many of us concerned, but clearly it was just to get the work in. Yesterday, Rossum averaged 20 yards on his 2 punt returns and has continually set the 49ers up in excellent field position. If the offense continues to show some consistency, we'll find even more value in these big returns.
After the 49ers signed Takeo Spikes, I indicated that I thought the team's linebacker depth had improved, even if people felt Spikes was washed up. He had suffered a bad injury to end his tenure in Philly and was working at a new position, the 3-4 Ted. Spikes was a crazy playmaker in his prime and the Ted is not known as quite the playmaking position. The position is supposed to do the grunt work to open up holes for Patrick Willis to make tackles.
And yet, Take Spikes has been a huge impact player on and off the field. Yesterday he had another solid performance, with 6 total tackles and a pass deflection. On the season he has 60 total tackles, including 2 for losses, 6 pass deflections and a team-high 3 interceptions (not sure if that's a good or bad thing). He is currently second on the team in tackles behind Bamm Bamm and it feels like he is making a big play every game.
What I've also found refreshing is his attitude towards the team. I've noticed that in post-game quotes he's often included. Additionally, when the local Fox channel talks to the players outside the locker room, he is usually one of the players involved. It's hard to tell what kind of leadership role he has taken, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he's one of the main guys players look to for guidance. It's just a guess, but based on how he conducts himself, it seems like a relatively educated guess.
So who really has bee the bigger "surprise?" Or maybe you're not surprised by the performance of either? My vote is for Allen Rossum. Even though Takeo Spikes finished 2007 injured, he had some decent numbers, although it was a rather quiet season for him. As my March post showed, I really didn't expect a whole lot from Allen Rossum. And yet he has been one of the few bright spots of an otherwise disappointing season.