Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
C.J. Spillman was once released for poor special teams play. That's something I have to say every time I talk about Spillman because he's just been so incredible at what he does. Spillman never seemed like someone who was overly fast or athletic, but he's consistently the first one to the ball on kick coverage, and he might be the surest tackler of all of the 49ers defensive backs.
Spillman is a special teams ace, which obviously doesn't lend a lot of confidence to his spot on the roster on this team. The 49ers have a tendency to let special teams players go at the drop of a hat, but they've invested in Spillman a bit so I don't see it happening here specifically. Spillman hasn't slowed down, from what I can tell, so taking a look at his 2013 season really just amounts to "yep, he's still good at that thing he does."
As far as actually playing on defense is concerned, Spillman does have his uses. He's brought in whenever the 49ers need to make a sure tackle, like at the goal line or in a third-and-long situation. It's unclear if he'll still be used in that capacity going forward with the changes at safety, but it's worth noting that he knows the defense better than Antoine Bethea at this point. And, like his special teams play, I saw nothing to be worried about last season.
He's just really good at what he does.
Why he might improve:
It's unclear where Spillman finds himself on the field when the defense is concerned. It wholly depends on how exactly the 49ers plan to utilize Jimmie Ward. If keeping him at the nickel spot is important and something they want to stick to in his rookie year, then Spillman could still find his way onto the field in relief, goal-line defenses and big third-down situations where tackling efficiency is a must. Getting more playing time could easily lead to improvement, but when it comes to special teams, I don't think there's a whole lot to improve upon.
Why he might regress:
If regresses, I think it would be easy to see why. Perhaps the 49ers change things up on special teams, possibly getting rid of someone of the guys that help him out a great deal, like wide receiver Kassim Osgood. Different players around him can lead to regression. It's also possible that Ward leads to Spillman getting less playing time on defense, which could be seen as regression.
Odds of making the roster:
I'm not going to pretend I understand the way the 49ers handle special teams. They've let some pretty incredible coverage standouts go over the years, and someone always seems to step up. I maintain that this will one day bite the 49ers where the sun does not, in fact, shine, but I think Spillman is the safest of the non-kicking, punting or snapping specialists. I think his roster spot is pretty much a guarantee at this point.