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49ers Training Camp: Defensive Musings

My apologies for the lack of posting over the last couple days.  My birthday was Tuesday and while the good times lasted all day, the physical consequences carried well into yesterday.  However, I'm fully recovered and ready to get back to the dawning of the J.T. O'Sullivan era.

There are obviously a million and one things to discuss related to the quarterback situation.  It sounds like we'll hear later today who will get the starting nod on Saturday so that will get the troops chattering.  In the meantime, I want to open discussion on the 49ers defense.

Last month I threw out a prediction that the 49ers defense would finish the season in the top half of the league.  Since then, the defense was shredded by the Raiders running backs and they added Takeo Spikes.  This post was inspired in part by sfgfan's comments in the Culpepper FanPost:

So there you have it, a pass rush that’s dependent on two players who haven’t proven they’re pass rushers, a guy who is learning a new position, and a guy who the team hasn’t used as a pass-rusher.

The pass rush was clearly a major problem last season.  The team added Justin Smith in the offseason and gets Manny Lawson back healthy, but as sfgfan pointed out, neither is really a traditional pass rusher.  Maiocco pointed out that TBC is having a strong training camp, but I think most of us are in agreement that he is not an every-down type of player.

So the question becomes, how good can your defense be without a good pass rush?  The 49ers finished last season 21st in sacks with 31.  Unfortunately I can't find the stats on quarterback hurries or how many times the QB was knocked down.  Anybody have any idea where those stats might be?

It's a shame that the pass rush has been missing because I think the other pieces are in place for this defense to be really good.  The addition of Takeo Spikes adds necessary depth to the linebacking corp, which was already very solid.  The secondary is in good shape and with the continued emergence of Dashon Goldson the depth is good there as well.

So an argument could exist similar to the whole chicken or the egg argument.  If you've got a great pass rush giving the QB less time to throw it's conceivable the secondary would look better.  Of course, if you've got a very good secondary, can the quality coverage create enough time for the linemen and linebackers to make sacks?

While I do think that coverage sacks are an important part of the game, the secondary would get too worn down without a legitimate pass rush.  It's got to be a little less tiring to run from the line of scrimmage to the QB than to have to run 30 or 40+ yards covering a speedy receiver.

I'm not here offering solutions to the problem of the pass rush, mainly because I don't know what those solutions might be.  There has been talk of Parys Haralson turning into that guy, or maybe Ray McDonald.  You want a great pass rushing unit, but usually there is one guy who is considered the big threat.  It would be a shame to waste all this defensive talent.  It'll be something worth keeping an eye on the remaining three games of the preseason.