The 49ers have certainly stocked up at the safety position lately, selecting one in three straight drafts. Any failure by that unit this coming season would only seem possible because of injuries. Probably more than one.
The cornerback situation is not nearly so secure. In fact, it is likely the least secure group on the team. And the most capable of seriously wounding its weekly attempts to score more points than the other team.
In the past six drafts, not so much as one cornerback has been drafted by the 49ers above the 5th round. Tarell Brown was the 5th round selection in 2007 and he has yet to elevate himself into a starting position. The team has drafted several CBs in the 6th and 7th rounds, and did so again this year. But none of these picks have done much more than play special teams. Our two starters are Shawntae Spencer and Nate Clements, a 7th year vet and a 10th year guy.
This indifferent attitude toward CBs is puzzling. Most of the league places a premium on having good CBs. They zoom off the draft board in the first two rounds of the draft as fast as any position in football. Having a lock-down corner can instantly upgrade a defense, from bad to good, from good to great. We imported Clements in 2007 to lock down one side of the field, and though he has been a solid corner for the most part, the door to his side of the field has not been anywhere near impregnable.
If one were inclined to impart genius to the 49ers cornerback attitude, perhaps their approach is akin to Bobb McKittricks’ efforts with non-highly drafted Olinemen. Perhaps the 49ers believe good safeties are more important than excellent corners and that they prefer to make do with CBs who can play physical at the LOS to disrupt timing patterns and let the safeties make sure the scoreboard doesn’t go bonkers with home runs. These types of CBs also cost a lot less money and are more available than the Darelle Revis types.
After that comedic allusion to genius, we are inclined to resume scratching our heads (I’ve grown an extra one to deal with the awesome responsibilities of this daily column). The charge to the playoffs this year greatly depends on the defense being as good or better than last year. But should Clements or Spencer go down (as Clements did last year and Spencer has for most of his career), the defense will be badly maimed.
The 49ers defense gives up a lot of yards for a top tier squad. And most of that yardage comes through the air, not on the ground. Its saving grace last year was shut down play in the Red Zone, indicating our CBs were very effective with a short field and no deep responsibilities. So, maybe the focus on the safeties is understandable.The problem this site faces in examining secondary play is a basic one. Only the tail end of the action back there is shown on the TV screen. If I were sitting in the bleacher seats like fans who have actual tickets to the games, secondary play would be clearly visible, from point A to point B.
It would be great if I could rely on some of our bloggers who do go to games, but most of them seem to be either clueless or eternally focused on complaining about the price of tickets vs the worth of the product. It’s not a stretch to suspect that a great many of them are stone cold wasted by half-time, either. A blogger on the PD site last year, by the name of Houston9er, regaled the blog one day after the Texans game, which he had gone to see, with some intense analysis of the Oline play in the first half, but the poor idiot could not describe anything that happened in the 2nd half of the game, failing to notice even the fact that Smith had replaced Hill at QB.
Relying on the beat guys, who have excellent views of the game, to accurately assess secondary play is better than nothing, but then one has to decide whether these fellows are reliable witnesses. After all, their primary focus is on the laptop keyboard, not necessarily the game, as they carry on a Mad Hatter Tweet fest with the online fans, more concerned with identifying who made a tackle than how the tackler ended up being there to perform his grasping.
At any rate, we see once again, even with the CBs, the 49ers lust for physical players. It’s clear Mike Singletary views football as an intense battle for control of the LOS, on both offense and defense, rather than a match up of your derring-do versus ours. In one respect, this attitude allows the team great flexibility with the salary cap, since lunch pail guys cost less than super studs, and the roster can be stocked with lower rated players who have less talent but more muscle and smaller egos.
This philosophy has yet to be proven a winner in this day and age of gaudy offenses and preening stars, though Rex Ryan gave it a hellava go last year. Perhaps we’ll have more of an answer after this coming year.