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Is Donte Whitner a cause for concern for the 49ers' defense?

Donte Whitner has been good for the San Francisco 49ers, but will he be a liability in 2013?

Chris Graythen

The San Francisco 49ers don't have a huge list of needs, as they boast one of the best rosters in the NFL. Even coming into this offseason, the needs were few: free safety, kicker, nose tackle and a backup defensive lineman. The 49ers went ahead and addressed all of those needs.

On top of that, we can pretty much guess who will earn the starting jobs on the roster, pending whatever the team decides is their base defense this year. There's a little competition at the wide receiver position and given how much the 49ers run the ball, the backup running back position is pretty interesting as well, but by and large, we know who is going to see the field the most.

So which of those players inspire the least amount of confidence? Who is set to have sizable playing time but just doesn't do it for you this year? For my money, I'm worried about Donte Whitner and the strong safety position.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm a big fan of what Whitner has been able to do since the 49ers picked him up on the cheap two years ago -- but Whitner regressed from 2011 to 2012 and there's no reason to believe he won't do it again in 2013-14.

Whitner's coverage skills in his first year were actually quite impressive, though that may be some expectation bias leaking through. His run coverage was also fairly decent, and when it came to running down plays, generally being around the ball and functioning as a true "safety," he was a definitive Pro Bowler that year.

But he regressed in almost every area last season, and my guess is that Eric Reid would be playing strong safety this year if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hadn't overpaid Dashon Goldson to depart for greener (in one sense) pastures.

One thing Whitner still does well: he cleans up. He covers mistakes the CBs make and he is very good at preventing big plays. In other words, he's a safety. Unfortunately, he's at that point where he's a liability in coverage and doesn't have an impressive stop rate against the run.

I firmly believe Whitner is our biggest cause for concern next year. What's yours?

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