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Niners Nation #Channel49 Twitter Q&A Mailbag, Vol. 9: Justin Smith's future, UDFAs & more

Every Friday we hold a question and answer session on Twitter. People send in questions and we answer. Easy enough. This week we discussed Justin Smith's future, the UDFAs, the nose tackle position and much more. Join us!

Coach Harbaugh asks Cowboy if he wants the crust cut off of his sandwich.
Coach Harbaugh asks Cowboy if he wants the crust cut off of his sandwich.

We're getting to the slow part of the year. We're going to have a hard time finding topics to discuss in the coming months, but that didn't stop people from participating in this weeks Q&A session. With Trevor Woods unavailable due to a strained oblique muscle, Malone had to step up his game. He tried not to disappoint. With so many more questions to answer, he'll get straight to the point.

With all of our young stars, their contract extensions and their futures garnering headlines this offseason, a lot of people are forgetting about the heart and soul of our defense, Justin Smith. His contract runs out after the 2013 campaign. He will turn 34 at the start of the season, which is old in defensive line years, and people are wondering what will happen with him after this year. He's such a great leader, mostly by example, that I would love for the 49ers to keep him.

The front office has shown that they'll make the hard decisions when it comes to the good of the team so we may come face to face with the fact that they may choose not to re-sign him. Assuming he'd like to continue playing football, I'd like to see him remain a 49er. His disposition doesn't make me think he'd like to coach, though he'd have tons to teach. If we won the Super Bowl, it might be a perfect time for Cowboy to ride off into the sunset.

The chances of undrafted free agents actually touching the field is highly unlikely. That doesn't stop us from falling for certain players and seeing in them traits that may get them on the 53-man roster one day. Every year, players from around the league get promoted from practice squads and see meaningful minutes in the league. This often has more to do with injuries on their given teams than anything that these players do to separate themselves. Being a UDFA and a practice squad player, by definition, puts you as number four or five on the team's depth chart.

Answering your question, it seems more logical to examine which position group on our team is thin, and which player may step up. We do not have a lot of experienced depth on the offensive line. We've been remarkably lucky on the injury front, and one bad break means a promotion for someone from the practice squad. Carter Bykowski was drafted late and would be a likely candidate, but Luke Marquardt, undrafted free agent out of Azusa Pacific, will be battling him for right to be the first tackle off the PS. He's a fascinating prospect at 6'8".

Oh, and it won't be Lawrence Okoye, if that was your question.

This question hurts my heart to even consider. If Colin Kaepernick were to go down, we're still a playoff team. We were in the NFC Championship Game under Alex Smith and our coaching staff and overall roster talent are among the tops in the league. Our big question was quarterback. Kaepernick came on last year, surprising everyone, while leading the team to the Super Bowl. If he goes down, we lose our dynamic signal caller, and our offense becomes much less potent. The drop off to Colt McCoy or Scott Tolzien is steep. The rest of the roster should be enough to carry us through to the playoffs, but a Super Bowl would be practically out of the question.

The two names that pop up most are Jonathan Goodwin and Carlos Rogers. Goodwin is the senior statesman of our line and played at a high level last year. Should the front office think that Daniel Kilgore or Joe Looney is ready to assume the role, he could be a candidate. Carlos Rogers, on the other hand, has come under criticism for his play, especially in relation to his contract. He is overpaid and if Nnamdi Asomugha or someone else knocks him down the depth chart, his contract may come back to haunt him. There is some question as to the amount of savings we'd receive by ditching Rogers, though.

The thing that jumps out at me is why. Why would we cut one of the starters? Are there any free agents out there that we need more than anyone on our current roster? Barring injury to a key position, I can't see the team needing to free up the money that cutting a starter would provide. As it stands, the roster and salary cap are in harmony ... let it be.

Eric Reid should win the starting free safety spot hands down. Tank Carradine, our second pick, is rehabbing an injury and may take time to get up to speed. Who else might make waves this year? An area in which the team ought to make strides is in the passing game. The midseason quarterback change slowed things down last year and Kaepernick's continued growth, plus a full offseason as the No. 1 QB, should boost the overall numbers of the passing attack. With losses and questions at their position groups, both Vance McDonald and Quinton Patton should get some playing time and have every opportunity to carpe the diem.

The quick answer is no. I don't think Nnamdi is the answer at cornerback and the best we can hope for from Eric Reid is that he fills Dashon Goldson's shoes. A rookie free safety is always a question mark. We struggled late in the year in coverage as our pass rush broke down. The front office upgraded the pass rush, which indicates that break-downs against the pass were due to the lack of depth up front more so than problems personnel-wise in the secondary. The other possibility is that they work on the problems schematically. The coaching staff is smart and they certainly noticed the problem -- we have to assume they think they've solved it. It doesn't mean I'm not worried.

This will be one of the big battles going into camp. The depth chart on the defensive line is really up in the air. Glenn Dorsey will be expected to be the favorite, based on salary and experience, if nothing else. The team uses a lot of four-man lines in nickel and dime packages and both could see the field at the same time. But, your question brings up a point that I'd love to hammer home. With all the depth and versatility added to the position group, it would appear that the coaching staff learned a lesson from last year about rotating players. We now have the depth and personnel to provide various looks along the line while getting some much needed rest for the team's run to the Super Bowl and I hope that that's the plan.

My initial response was Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott. Someone demanded that I put Eddie DeBartolo up there. I could do that, but Lott was always my favorite player as a kid ... he chopped off the tip of his finger to be able to play in the Super Bowl. The stuff of legends. I'll accept DeBartolo replacing Lott, only if Ronnie's severed finger serves as the cell phone tower that would inevitably be plonked atop the highest point. Who would you guys want to see?

Being a Sheep

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