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Safeties: Long look back, brief look forward

The safety position has certainly created its fair share of headaches for the 49ers. A lack of big time playmakers, coupled with untimely injuries. And I'm sure plenty of folks were disappointed when Taylor Mays, USC safety extraordinaire, elected to return for one more year of college. Personally, I think the 49ers answer at free safety is on the roster, but I'm sure others disagree.

Mark Roman: Might as well start with the headache. I think Mark Roman can best be summed up by the random stat somebody threw out indicating he averaged 1 big play per season (INTs, fumbles, etc), all of which came in his first season with the 49ers. I can't recall the exact details but it was something along those lines. Roman was good at one point, but he struggled this season, no matter what the situation.

The secondary as a whole certainly had holes, but I think most everybody would lay the problems at the feet of Roman. This past training camp it seemed like Roman was on the verge of losing his job and yet he got one last reprieve from Nolan. In his end of season press conference, Mike Singletary was pretty adamant about a need to add help at safety. Needless to say, I'd be pretty surprised if Roman was starting in 2009.

Michael Lewis: Lewis quietly put together another solid season in 2008. His numbers were down in some categories, up in others, so all around, a second solid season with the 49ers. Lewis fits the mold of a run-stopping safety and fills it to a T. He finished tied for second in total tackles and always seemed to be involved in any action. Considering he's only turning 29 this year I think the strong safety position is sufficiently set for the next few years. Does anybody strongly disagree with that assessment?

Dashon Goldson: What a roller-coaster season for a guy who made a nominal contribution to the regular season at most. During training camp, Goldson was praised for his ball-hawking skills, something very useful for a free safety. He was almost like the anti-Shaun Hill. Hill sucked in practice but eventually got the starting job, while Goldson seems great in practice but has yet to win that starting job. Goldson got hurt for a two month stretch during the season, but even when healthy he did not make a huge impact.

And yet I remain firmly entrenched on the Dashon Goldson bandwagon. Maybe he never amounts to anything, but if our 2007 fourth round pick could become our starting free safety, I'd be a very happy camper. The alternate train of thought seems to be that he would be better suited in a dime type of role. Without a guy like Taylor Mays out there to draft, do people still see that as his role?

Keith Lewis: Although they are quite different, something about Keith Lewis reminds me of Arnaz Battle beyond just the fact that they were both sixth round picks (Lewis in 2004, Battle in 2003). Maybe it's because they've come through the rough times and managed to stick around. Maybe it's because their time is coming to a close with the 49ers. Lewis gets time on the field with the defense, but he's really a special teams warrior. His primarily role with the defense is as an injury replacement. He's signed through 2009 and I would fully expect him to be sent packing at that point. If Goldson hasn't taken the starting free safety position, I'd imagine he could fill Lewis's role as a backup, only more talented.

Looking Forward
This section is dealing almost entirely with free safety. Moving forward, I see no need to bring in a strong safety at this point. Michael Lewis is still young and the 49ers have time to work in an eventual replacement. Free safety is certainly a different situation entirely. At 31, Mark Roman finished the 2008 season with a fork in his back, and Coach Singletary acknowledged as much.

There is talent on the free agent market, but I'm not sure if the 49ers want to go with some of the older options out there. One suggestion was moving Nate Clements or Walt Harris over and then drafting a new young corner. Clements makes way too much money for such a move, which leaves Walt Harris, who might be a little too old for that kind of move. Or maybe not? I'm honestly not sure if that's the right move to make, or not. It's certainly an intriguing option. Thoughts?

The draft has lost out on some safety talent, but there remain some decent options. After the jump I've listed the top 14 safeties (a combination of free and strong). Personally, I remain convinced that Goldson can fill the role. With Mays off the table, do you see the 49ers drafting a safety later, or trying to find one through free agency? Singletary stated it was a need position, so clearly they won't go into camp with just Goldson and Roman.

1. William Moore, FS, Missouri
2. Rashad Johnson, FS, Alabama
3. Patrick Chung, SS, Oregon
4. Louis Delmas, FS, WEstern Michigan
5. Kevin Ellison, SS, USC
6. Michael Hamlin, SS, Clemson
7. Nic Harris, SS, Oklahoma
8. Emanuel Cook, SS, South Carolina
9. Curtis Taylor, FS, LSU
10. David Bruton, FS, Notre Dame
11. Derek Pegues, FS, Mississippi State
12. Courtney Greene, SS, Rutgers
13. Chip Vaughn, SS, Wake Forest
14. Otis Wiley, SS, Michigan State