Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Crabtree Back; 49ers Must Utilize WR's

The 49ers #1 pick from 2009's draft looks like he'll be making his training camp/preseason practice debut Tuesday, after the 49ers activated star wideout Michael Crabtree from the PUP list.

Now things should get really interesting as Jim Harbough deciphers out which 2 he'll trot out there on September 11th vs. the Seahawks. They have the new-arriving big name and possibly biggest talent on the team in Braylon Edwards. Then there's Crabtree, who is still trying to live up to those lofty expectations he obtained while at Texas Tech and has been improving each year, but never has seemed to get in tune with Alex Smith. It seems like all Crabtree's big games came when Troy Smith or Shaun Hill were behind center for the 49ers, and just a few above average games coming with Alex. That said, I don't think there's a problem there, and it's more likely coincidence than lack of chemistry, but I'm really hoping these two can start out on the same page this season cause I still have very, very high hopes for Michael Crabtree. I've heard the diva talk and that he's too fragile, but he's quietly put up some decent numbers in a horrific 49ers passing attach the last 2 years, with or without being Alex Smith's go-to guy. This year, the work Smith has done with Braylon Edwards has been talked about a lot, so I expect to see Edwards no only starting, but being targeted 8-10 times per week by Smith as his #1.

Because of all the practice missed, I think that relegates Crabtree into WR2 duties behind Braylon, and that's only if he can show he's healthy and ready between now and the opener in 12 days. Josh Morgan has been the guy lost in the shuffle a bit so far this training camp, but I expect him to still be a prominent part of this teams passing attach, backing up both Crabtree and Edwards on the ends. I really would like to see Harbough start using Ted Ginn more often out of the slot, because I think he could be a decent one if given a fair shot. Ginn was asked to be the #1 in Miami right out the shoot and he's just not built for that, but you put him in a situation where he has the whole field to work with and run rather than working on a sideline, and you just may have something. So I expect Morgan to be the #3 wideout on the depth chart, I want Ginn to be the slot machine. I also wouldn't mind seeing Delanie Walker split out into the slot too. He's got WR speed and TE size so he'll be a mis-match to whoever they put on him. Harbough has a chance to be very creative with this offense with the weapons they have and I certainly hope he doesn't relegate to a conservative approach like the Nolan and Singletarry regime's were. I know Frank Gore is this team's star and horse, and he needs 20 carries a week, but this team's line is a work in progress right now and they man not end up being the running team they were expecting.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

49ers Crumble Vs. Texans

The optimism that surrounded the 49ers as recently as 4 weeks ago that had fans hoping for a shot at the NFC West took a huge hit of reality Saturday. The 49ers lost to the Texans 30-7, and looked dreadful offensively.

There was outscored by their quickly rising defense, as their only points came on an Ahmad Brooks interception return off Drew Brees in the first quarter. After that though, it was dismal for the 49ers in what's supposed to be most important preseason game of all. Alex Smith, of course, started behind center but completed just 2 of 6 passes for a whopping 17 yards and a pick while alternating with Colin Kaepernick throughout the first half. Smith looked flat out bad and it was hard to watch and there really isn't much else I can say. You can look at his numbers and they don't lie. Kaepernick looked like a raw rookie who's about 2 good years away from being able to compete in the NFL. He completed just 6 of 16 passes for 52 yards and another pick. Newly acquired Josh McCown did not get into the game, but after watching the way each quarterback played, it's hard to imagine McCown not winning the starting job, just by default. He's never really been a great QB at the NFL level, but has had his moments, and has never started for a team with the talent on offense like the 49ers have. McCown could be a better decision maker than Smith, though he likely doesn't posses the athletic ability or arm strength. Still, in the West Coast Offense like Harbough will run, all you really need is a reliable arm and good decision maker back there, neither of which Alex Smith has shown.

The 49ers are likely still hoping somebody they like hits waivers between now and the end of the month when rosters drop. I have no idea of who may be available or cut, but across the bay in Oakland, I think the Raiders have 3 guys who would become immediate starters in San Francisco, so it's not like they're going to get a top-level guy. I still don't understand why they weren't more active during free agency in looking for a QB. I know he's not a free agent, but Brady Quinn, I think, could succeed with this team, or maybe even a guy like Rex Grossman if he losses out in Washington. Somebody who's won in the NFL and can run this offense. The only positive they got to take out of Saturday's game, besides another solid defensive output, was the running game. The offensive line has been very spotty, but Kendal Hunter has easily been the breakout player of preseason and really looks like the real deal to me. He dashed for 40 yards on just 8 carries, while Anthony Dixon notched 15 yards in his 8 runs. In his 3 preseason games now, Hunter has racked up 169 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown. He's the clear-cut #2 behind Frank Gore and has shown enough to get himself a consistent role in the regular season too.

Trade Demands?! Apparently, Frank Gore, the 49ers and his agent have brought up the topic of a possible trade demand if the pro-bowl running back's contract demands aren't met. Sound like a familiar situation? The Titans are having the same problem with Chris Johnson, who is also know supposedly supporting a trade ideal. If that's the case, I'm a big fan of Frank Gore and all, but if the 49ers could somehow send Gore packing to Tennessee and bring back Johnson and give him the money he's asking for, I'd be all for it, and some. Hell, I'd even give the Titans a draft pick too. For my money Chris Johnson is the best back in the league and on a good team, and as good as Frankie is, Johnson is better... Not likely going to happen, but something to thin about as both running backs pout for a new deal!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gore's Contract Situation Turns Fiery

Most 49er fans knew Frank Gore was expecting a new deal this summer before camp started, and his brief holdout to start camp was a statement made by him that he's certainly not happy with his current deal.

Gore returned to camp after just a couple of days though, and it looked as if all things were headed in the right direction. 3 weeks later though, still no new deal for the 49ers top offensive force, and apparently he's starting to take his frustration out on 49ers coaches. This can't be good for an offense that's still trying to get it's feet under them and survive another year with Alex Smith behind center. The 49ers made a big addition to their offensive unit by bringing in Braylon Edwards, and Michael Crabtree is healing up quickly and should be ready by week one. All signs are pointing towards an improvement offensively for San Francisco, but in order for them to go, they need Gore to revert to his 2006 form (2,180 total yards, 9 TD's). Supposedly, Gore's agent is using DeAngelo Williams' deal as a comparison to what Gore should get, and the 49ers are hesitating giving a back who's played a full 16-game season just once and missed 5 games last season. Still, Gore is 27 years-old and one of the better backs in the NFL, certainly better than Williams. The 49ers need to lock this guy up sooner rather than later and ease the tension that's brewing. They've been saying they'd like to make Gore a 49er for life, so it's time for the York's to fork out for their franchise player.

Even if Gore does get his deal and has a big season, the 49ers will only go as far as Alex Smith can take them. Colin Kaepernick is not NFL ready yet, and won't likely be for some time, and Josh McCown is the epitome of a back-up QB as you don't really want him playing for more than maybe a game or 2 the whole season. That leaves the duties squarely on Alex Smith, and I'm going to be watching him like a hawk in Saturday's regular season "dress rehearsal". With most of the regulars likely sitting out all of next weeks preseason finale, this will be their final tune-up and they get a very formidable opponent in the Houston Texans, who will also be playing their regulars well into the 3rd quarter. Not only will it be key for Alex Smith and the offense to get on the same page and all clicking together, the Texans, with Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, pose a perfect challenge for the new-look 49ers defense. I believe Carlos Rogers will be the only starting defensive player who won't play, giving young corner's Tarrel Brown and Tramaine Brock plenty of reps as they battle it out for the #3 corner spot behind Rogers and Spencer. I've always liked Tarrel Brown and he just keeps getting better and better each year it seems. He's got 5 picks in the last 3 seasons, despite being a 3rd and 4th corner. Jim Harbough has been raving about Brock all preseason too and he looked good vs. Oakland. I'd say Brown wins this battle though.

That's about the only really battle to focus on this weekend, otherwise it's all about getting the first team extended game time to get acclimated. I'm really looking forward to watching Kendal Hunter get some reps vs. the Texans first team defense. In my opinion, the rookie Hunter has had as good of camp or better than any other 49ers player. His impressive practices have translated into big-time production in the first two preseason games as he's breezed by Anthony Dixon to become Frank Gore's caddy. Hunter had the skill-set to be a 1st round pick, but his 5'7", 197 pound frame and the fact he doesn't translate into a prototypical every-down back knocked him down a few rounds, but I think he could end up being one of the steals. Remember another undersized speed back who came out of Oklahoma State about 20 years ago (Barry Sanders)? Hunter is cut from a very similar cloth.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Raiders Draft Terrelle Pryor

Well, the Raiders and Al Davis never shy away from a mercurial talent, especially at the quarterback position, and proved so again Monday by drafting former Ohio State star, Terrelle Pryor.

This pick didn't surprise me in the least possible way. After striking out on JaMarcus Russel a few years back, the Raiders have been in search of their quarterback of the future, and will apparently give Pryor a shot to be that guy. They must have saw something they really liked in him during his workout this past week, cause they gave up their 3rd rounder in the 2012 draft in order to bring him in, and we all know how deep next years draft will be with QB's. Don't get me wrong, Pryor was an explosive talent at Ohio State and a very good collegiate QB, but I don't really see him panning out in the NFL. If he makes it, he's going to have to do it in that Michael Vick/Vince Young mode where he can be a duel threat with the run and pass, but he doesn't posses the arm strength or the speed that Vick has, and isn't near the passer that Young is. That said, his arm isn't weak, he's got a quick release, can throw on the run and is obviously extremely athletic and mobile. He's got a lot to do to become an NFL caliber QB though, a lot of work on his delivery and throwing into tight windows (he has trouble throwing tight spirals often) and he's never ran anything close to a pro-style offense in Columbus. It should be very interesting to see exactly how the Raiders use him (after his 5 game suspension) and whether or not they'll give him a look this preseason? The unique thing about him is that if he doesn't pan out at QB, he could end up being a decent wideout with his size and speed. Here's some highlight video to get a better handle on Pryor's game.

Terrelle Pryor isn't the only new quarterback coming to town. Across the bay, in need for a QB as bad as any other team in the league, the 49ers finally added the veteran backup they've been looking for, but I'm not sure it's the guy that Niner fans necessarily wanted. Instead of trading for a good young backup like Josh Johnson or waiting out the waiver process for a potential gem, the 49ers picked former Raider Josh McCown instead of Daunte Cullpepper. McCown immediately will assume the #3 role on the QB depth chart, but if Alex Smith doesn't step it up in these last few preseason games, McCown could enter the starting picture. Although he looked better against the Raiders, I don't think they'd feel comfortable using Colin Kaepernick in a regular season game just yet, and after Alex Smith, they had nobody. I would have liked to see them be more active in free agency at the QB position, which according to Trent Baalke, they were but just couldn't get anything done. Vince Young or Matt Hasselbeck would have looked a lot better battling it out with Smith than Josh McCown. The 32 year-old has thrown a total of 6 passes in the NFL since 2007 and carried a QB rating of 69.7 that season as the part-time starter in Oakland. Something tells me they may still have their eye on potential quarterbacks.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

49ers vs. Raiders In-Game Notes

With the annual Battle of the Bay preseason match-up of the 49ers vs. the Raiders here, and so much to talk about with each team, I wanted to do a little something unique here. We'll bring you in-game notes from the game as they happen as a semi in-game post type deal. We'll have periodic notes pertaining to key plays, players and happenings as well as a recap of the game at the end.

As far as pregame notes, real briefly, the 49ers offense will be largely under the microscope. Especially the quarterbacks and offensive line, which both looked bad in the preseason opener last week. I would expect to see Alex Smith play at least the whole 1st quarter and much of the 2nd before giving way to Colin Kaepernick, and it's going to be key for Smith to play well in order to secure his spot atop the depth chart and fend off any potential free agent/trade acquisition... On the Raiders side, things are looking a little better. They're set at QB and just need to get their new guys in synch (McFadden won't play though). They lost their best receiving option and best cover man this summer but have the young guys to step up and fill their shoes. I'm interested in seeing how touted rookie wideout Denarious More does... 5 minutes till kickoff!

First Half

*49ers first drive went very well until they got inside the 10. I would have liked to see Harbough go to the air a bit more, instead he ran all 3 downs inside the 10 and the 49ers were kept out of the endzone. The fumble on the field goal attempt was a fluke, mishandle by Lee, but still not happy they couldn't put points on the board. Braylon Edwards made a nice catch after dropping one and Alex Smith and Frank Gore each excelled as the 49ers held the ball for 9 minutes.

*After the Raiders went 3 and out, the 49ers started off another drive strong, but it ended with Smith making a bad decision. It reminds me why Harbough chose to run 3 consecutive times inside the 10 last possession. Since the Raiders have gotten the ball back, they marched right down the field behind the arm of Jason Campbell and hands of Denarious Moore, but Parys Haralson got to Campbell on a 4th and Goal to keep the Raiders scoreless. We're looking at a couple of offenses why are having trouble getting in the end zone here!

*Another strong 49ers drive, highlighted by a nice toss and catch from Smith to Edwards for 35 yards, and a nice run by Kendal Hunter, ends in a field goal attempt inside the 10 yard line. The 49ers again fail to put it in the end zone, though they were able to put some points on the board. They're outplaying Oakland right now in this first half, on pure time of possession alone. The clock is winding down and it looks like it will be 3-0 heading into the half. Decent half for Alex Smith, good half for Braylon Edwards and the 49ers Defense and O-Line.

2nd Half

*Colin Kaepernick starts the 2nd half behind center as most 2nd-teamers have made their way into the game for both sides. The star of the day continues to be rookie running back Kendal Hunter, who broke off a big 53-yard touchdown run early in the 3rd quarter. The Raiders just haven't responded well offensively, as the 49ers have shut them down in every facet of the game.

*Just like that the game comes to a close. Kaepernick was very pedestrian, finishing 5-8 with 54 yards with no picks or TD's. He got sacked 2 more times as he's still not making quick enough decisions in the pocket, but that will come. The 49ers really played well defensively. Tarrell Brown, who's having a fine preseason, came up with a big interception, as did new safety Madeiu Williams. 49ers complete the victory 17-3 without doing very much at all offensively.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Struggling 49ers Hasten Their Search for QB

After the 49ers were spanked in the preseason opener while getting less than stellar play from the quarterback position, it's prompted management to looking into acquiring a veteran as insurance, or quite possibly to compete for the starting job.

Last Friday in the Big Easy, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick went a combined 11-26 for 127 yards, 2 ints. and 6 sacks. A near 60-yard field goal before half was the only scoring the 49ers would do all game. Smith played just a few series and it was Kaepernick's first taste of NFL action, and they both left a ton to be desired. Kaepernick looked alright on a few plays and showed his athleticism and ability to run with that 28-yard scramble down the middle of the field when the pocket collapsed on him. All in all though, he rushed too many balls and made too many bad decisions for the 49ers to even consider him as an option to start in 2011, at least early in the year. Not saying he won't eventually improve and become a legit starting quarterback, but I am saying it's going to take him a while, possibly a full season or more. His footwork needs attention as does his decision making but his accuracy and arm strength is there. So we now know that Alex Smith, who looked like the same old Alex Smith Friday night, is really the only NFL caliber quarterback currently in the mix. The 49ers are getting so desperate they even called Daunte Culpepper this weekend to get him in town for a tryout. At this point in the free agency period, there really isn't anybody of value at the QB position waiting for work. They had a chance early to bolster the position with someone like Vince Young or Matt Hasselbach, but decided against it. I'm sure they're probably kicking themselves right now for not being more proactive a few weeks ago in regards to the QB position.

As far as Culpepper is concerned, I don't know exactly how his audition went, but the 49ers have not offered him a contract yet, which tells me they probably weren't overly impressed. Another option they could look into could be a guy like Marc Bulger, who retired earlier this summer, but could reconsider with a shot at playing. I think at this point though, the 49ers best option would be to trade for some other teams backup. I really wish they would have made a play for Vince Young when he was free, cause for some reason, I could see him coming here and clicking with guys like Davis, Gore and Crabtree on offense. Another guy who's been talked about a lot this summer is Oakland born Josh Johnson, who's currently backing up Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay. The only issue with trading for a quarterback is that it will cost a draft pick, and the 49ers have not dealt draft picks for players at all in recent years. Since they're so far under the cap though, I think they may just wait it out over the next couple weeks and cross their fingers that someone who interests them ends up getting cut when rosters shrink. As far as the names still out there right now, just about the only guy who intrigues me is former Alabama star and Chiefs 3rd round pick Brodie Croyle. He's had injury issues and really fell out of KC's plan after they acquired Matt Cassell, but I really believe Croyle could do something if given a shot. He's certainly better than the 3rd string candidates the 49ers currently have and could push Alex for the starters spot. Some will shy away because he's never won when starting a game, but the 10 games he started was when KC was a laughing stock. I think he's ready for a 2nd chance.

Raider Watch: The Raiders played much better than their cross-bay rivals in their preseason opener. Oakland got exceptional quarterback play from all 3 of their QB's, and I bet Jim Harbough watched that game and wished he could have just one of the Raiders' gun-slingers. Trent Edwards, who I thought the 49ers would go after, led Raider QB's, going 10-19 for 139 yards and a TD. The Raiders did lose the game to the Cardinals, 24-18, but played without Darren McFadden and a few other starters and I think Hugh Jackson has to be pretty pleased overall with how the Silver and Black played. It already looks like the receivers are going to be an issue and I really think the Raiders need to pull out all the stops in order to get one of the few remaining decent wide receivers. I still think Terrell Owens would be a nice fit in Oakland, where it seems like star wideouts on the downswing of their career (Tim Brown, Jerry Rice) find a second wind. The need someone who could be a #1 and take pressure of the other guys while giving Jason Campbell a reliable target. As long as he gets his leg in shape, I think TO can still do just that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Return of Goldson Solidifies Secondary

Well, the 49ers got a touch of bad news Monday, but responded in a big way. Upon being informed that their projected starting free safety, Reggie Smith, will miss 2-4 weeks with a injured knee, Trent Baalke went out and brought back a guy who was at the top of his list when free agency began.

Dashon Goldson, who's elevated himself into becoming one of the better safeties in the NFL over the last 2 seasons, signed a 1 year deal worth nearly $2.5 million to return to San Francisco. With Goldson's return, it certainly shakes up the 49ers secondary, that's for sure, but in a good way. While Smith has looked great in camp before the injury and was widely expected to start alongside new strong safety Donte Whitner, Goldson's return probably knocks him out of the starting lineup. With Goldson and Whitner now slated in as your projected starting safeties, the 49ers sure have a dynamic duo in the center of the field. They both are aggressive and like to move up against the run, but one of them needs to take on the more traditional free safety role and I'd expect that to be Goldson, who was a former cornerback at Washington. Goldson had 4 picks in 2009 when he was playing more of a free safety, but his picks went down and tackles went up last season as a strong safety. I would expect Smith to become the 3rd safety and still get plenty of reps, but he has to first focus on getting himself healthy. With Goldson and Whitner starting and newly signed Madeiu Williams backing up with Reggie Smith, the 49ers have 4 above average safeties and have indeed revamped their secondary.

I was a little surprised to hear of the Goldson signing, even with news of Smith's injury, as I believe the 49ers were confident with the group of safeties they now had, but it just goes to show you that they are expecting big things from themselves this season. All these one year deals they're giving away aren't moves to make them better 2-3 years down the line, that's for this season, and it's management telling their players they want to win and will do what they can to better the team. As we said in our last post, there are still plenty of suitable free agents and the 49ers still have cap space and a roster needs, so I don't think they're don yet either. They definitely need another quarterback, and there's speculation they may end up going after bay area native Josh Johnson from Tampa Bay (who's gone public with his desire to play in San Francisco). He'd not only solidify the QB spot, but would give Smith a run for the starting spot. Besides QB, I think another spot where they desperately need depth is their defensive line. We'll sort everything out and have our projected 49ers starting lineup next post when we start prepping for Friday's preseason opener.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What's Next for 49ers?

Well, after the 49ers blitzed the free agent market earlier in the week, they've been very quiet this weekend, and are likely assessing what will be their final moves before the preseason kicks off Friday night.

With their big free agent signings, mainly WR Braylon Edwards, S Donte Whitner, S Madeiu Williams, CB Carlos Rogers and C Jonathan Goodwin, the 49ers have filled out what looks to be their starting units on both sides of the ball. They are however, still very thin in certain spots on the depth chart, and do still have some cap space left to fill those holes. Right now, I would say the 49ers are still actively searching for a back-up QB, help at fullback, the defensive line, linebacker and possibly even another corner or wideout. The position I'm seeing the most need at right now is the D-line, where the team is extremely flexible, but paper thin. They have 5 players that look like locks to make the team, but outside their projected starters, Ray McDonald (LE), Issac Sopoaga (NT), and Justin Smith (RE), they don't really have anyone with ample NFL experience to fall back on. They have undrafted rookie Ian Williams, Ricky Jean Francois and Will Turkafu all slated as backups right now, and outside of Ian Williams, I don't particularly care for this group and definitely see upgrades available. At DT, I think either Pat Williams, Jimmy Kennedy or Travis Johnson, all of which are big tackles who've had success in the 3-4 scheme. There really aren't many ends out there that are intriguing, but the one guy I'd definitely look into is former Bengal, Antwan Odom (19 sacks in last 38 games).

Besides the D-Line, the 49ers have a pressing need for depth at quarterback. After Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, they don't really have anything, and if they keep waiting to address that situation, there won't be any options left to sign. Right now, there's still a few guys out there who could fill that void, with Brodie Croyle and Jake Delhomme topping the list. At corner, the list is also dwindling by the day, but there are still a few guys that could upgrade that unit for San Francisco. I like former Colt Kelvin Hayden as well as Andre Dyson and Lito Sheppard, who would each improve the teams nickel and dime defensive packages and provide a stable veteran presence behind starters Carlos Rogers and Shawntae Spencer. Hayden is so good when healthy, he could actually challenge for a starting spot, so he'd be my top choice at corner amongst those available....

Jumping over to the offense, the 49ers look set as far as their starters go, all across the board. With the addition of Goodwin, their O-line is set, and with Edwards in tow, they now have 3 very good receivers, but with Michael Crabtree out and possibly forced into starting slowly this season due to his injured foot, the 49ers could still be looking to add another wideout. There are a ton of veteran options still out there too, as WR is probably the deepest position left on the market. As much as I'd love to see him return, I don't think the 49ers would take on Terrel Owens again, especially after adding Braylon Edwards. Even though T.O. in the slot with Edwards and Crabtree split out and Vernon Davis on the line would give the 49ers an extremely potent offense, there may not be enough passes to go around for everyone. The 49ers still plan on being a run-heavy team behind Frank Gore, and will use 2-tight end sets quite often with one of the best non-starting tight ends in all of football in Delanie Walker. Still though, the big reason the 49ers haven't been winners since the early 2000's is because they haven't been able to beat teams through the air. It's why I wanted Edwards to join this team so badly. Outside of T.O., other, more likely targets for the 49ers could be Jerricho Cotchery or Mark Clayton, each of whom would be upgrades over anything the 49ers have after Edwards, Crabtree and Morgan. Clayton is maybe the most intriguing because of the year he was putting up last season in St. Louis before getting hurt (23 catches, 300 yds, 2 TD in 4 1/2 games).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kevin Boss to Replace Miller in Oakland

Within 72 hours of losing pro-bowl tight end Zach Miller to Seattle, the Raiders made their counter move, adding highly regarded blocking tight end Kevin Boss, formally of the Giants.

Now, Boss won't fill the large void left by Miller, who was the teams top receiver and a leader on and off the field. However, Boss was the 2nd best tight end on the free agent market, and Raiders fans have to feel better about things now then they did upon hearing the news of Miller signing with Seattle. Boss has had some nice seasons in New York playing with Eli Manning, but was never a highly targeted receiver in that offense because their passing game revolved around the wideouts. Boss was typically a 4th or 5th option on most passing plays in that offense. That said, he's been a rock of consistency, putting up mirror seasons the last 2 years, with 567 and 531 yards receiving in '09-'10 along with 5 TD catches in each season. So, while he's not going to put up Miller numbers as far as yards and catches go, he's solid in the red zone and could flourish in a west coast offense like the Raiders run, in which the TE is much more utilized than in the spread-type offense like they run in New York. Boss easily becomes the Raiders highest profile free agent they've added this summer (which tells you how in-active they've been), in what's been a very trying stretch for Oakland to get under the cap for new coach Hugh Jackson. The two other notable free agents they've brought in are guard Justin Smiley, to compete for a starting spot on the O-line, and former Stanford QB Trent Edwards to compete with Kyle Boller to backup Jason Campbell at QB.

Also coming out of Raider camp was the news that star running back Darren McFadden will miss 2 weeks after breaking an orbital bone in his face. It's kind of an odd injury for a football player to get, as they usually have a helmet to cover they face, but it will cost DMac some time none the less. This could hasten the Raiders efforts to re-sign powerback Michael Bush, who is widely expected to eventually return to Oakland. The Raiders haven't been very aggressive in free agency, simply because they don't have the cap space or the appeal to outside free agents, but they did manage to keep nearly all of their own key free agents. Obviously the two big fish that got away were Asomugha and Miller, but with the Raiders cap situation, neither player was expecting to return to Oakland. Miller was the more realistic of the two and Oakland wanted him back badly, so I still am surprised the Raiders didn't pull out all stops to keep him. They did keep Michael Huff, which is a good thing cause they probably wouldn't have replaced him with anyone else if he left, and also re-upped Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley and new #1 corner, Stanford Routt. Right now though, Raiders fans are looking at a near identical team from last year, minus their leading receiver and top defender so they'll need some of their returning players to step up and develop. Even with the popular Jackson at the helm, it's gotta be tough for Raider fans to get optimistic about 2011.

49ers Notes: Well, for the first day in about a week, the 49ers took a day off on signing free agents, but that hasn't stopped the rumors. After the 49ers added star receiver Braylon Edwards, re-made 3/4 of their secondary and added themselves a pro-bowl center, they're still looking to make at least one trade and possibly more signings before next weeks preseason opener. 2nd year safety Taylor Mays (placed on trade block) looks like he's on his way out of town after the 49ers added all those DB's this week, but I certainly hope he's not just given away, cause they just used a 2nd round pick on him last year. They could use him to get themselves an experienced backup QB, because after Alex Smith, they don't have anyone who's ever thrown a pass in the NFL. They could also look to add depth at linebacker and the D-line. As far as free agents go, I don't really see anyone of note out there left that the 49ers will pursue. Former Raiders' LB Kirk Morrison is free and could provide a Takeo Spikes-like presence and stability behind Navarro Bowman. I think he could definitely help this defense.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

49ers Land Braylon Edwards

The 49ers were one of the slowest teams to get going in free agency in all the NFL, but they kept saying they had a plan. Now we're seeing that plan come to fruition, and all the sudden the team that didn't make any moves the first few days, can't seem to put the phone down!

The 49ers made possibly their two biggest signings of the shortened offseason Thursday (likely their last prominent signings this summer), inking themselves a new starting wide receiver and a starting strong safety coming off a 140-tackle season. After weeks of lobbying for the mercurial wideout here at BASJ, the 49ers finally made it official Thursday, signing Braylon Edwards to a 1 year, $3.5 million deal to come in and start opposite of Michael Crabtree. It drastically impacts the 49ers receiving corps and gives them a true home run threat on the outside to relieve some pressure off Davis in the middle. Edwards has 39 TD catches in 6 seasons and is a former pro-bowler who's just entering his prime at 28. This gives the 49ers arguably their most explosive unit offensively since Alex Smith arrived, and should put he and Colin Kaepernick in great positions to succeed. The 49ers got Frank Gore back in practice this week, now have added Edwards to join Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Josh Morgan and Crabtree to anchor the 49ers offense. As long as their O-Line, led by newly signed pro-bowl center Jonathon Goodwin, plays up to par and handles their end of the bargain, I think the 49ers offense will be singing a much different tune this season. Not only will Edwards help SF, but by signing him, the Niners kept him away from division rival Arizona, where he would have lined up with Larry Fitzgerald. The one slight downside Edwards brings is some off-field issues, but he's under a 1 year deal with nothing guaranteed and should be on his best behavior and working his tail off to earn himself a multi-year deal next summer. It's also good to see the 49ers finally attract a skilled offensive player through free agency, which I can't remember them doing in the last 10 years. He showed he's excited to be here too, emerging for practice (wearing #81 not #17) immediately after the deal was announced.

It was a win-win day for the Niners, on both sides of the ball. Joining Edwards in the Red and Gold will be former Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner. I thought they were through at safety after signing Madeiu Williams the previous day, unless it was Dashon Goldson re-signing, but they added a guy who many believe to be better than Goldson. Whitner was one of the lone bright spots and helped anchor down a horrid Buffalo defense last season, so he should benefit greatly from the improved talent around him. He had 140 tackles last season, which tells you he's a ball-hawk and an aggressive tackler, two key traits in a good strong safety. This should pretty much spell the end of Goldson's run with San Francisco too. I did find it a little interesting that the 49ers want to axe Taylor Mays? I get the fact they like Reggie Smith and now have Williams and Whitner in the mix, but Mays was a 2nd rounder last season and certainly shouldn't be given away. I'd only deal him if it brought the 49ers some help on the D-line or another solid cornerback. They could also be targeting a back-up QB with Mays as well. As far as free agency though, I don't expect the 49ers to be too more active after the frenzy they put up over the last 72 hours.

Braylon Edwards 2010 w/ Jets: 53 catches, 904 yards, 7 TD's, 17.1 YPC
Donte Whitner 2010 w/Bills: 140 tackles (97 solo), 1 sack, 1 int, 1 FFum, 7 PD's

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

49ers' Roster Starting to Take Shape

The 49ers made some very big signings Wednesday that have shored up a few of their needs. They added the top corner and center on the free agent market, and signed a safety as insurance for Dashon Goldson if they don't re-sign him, which appears to be the case.

The 49ers got their replacement for Nate Clements in the form of Carlos Rogers, who I was pining for once Asomugha, Cromartie and Joseph were swooped up. Rogers was the #9 pick in the 2005 draft by Washington, and although he didn't quite live up to top-10 status with the 'Skins, he's been one of the better cover-man in the league since he's come into the league. I also think a change of scenery is going to work greatly in his favor. He's a much better cover corner than Clements is, and is a better athlete than Nate. Clements played more like a strong safety for the 49ers than the star cornerback he was supposed to be. He made some big tackles and played OK, but was torched way too often and never lived up to the big deal he received. Rogers will undoubtedly supply much better man-coverage, and will be just fine in the run game too which is why I was hoping they'd sign him, and the 49ers made it happen. In addition to Rogers, the 49ers also added former Viking safety Madieu Williams. I don't think Williams is quite as much of a big-play guy like Goldson, but shouldn't be too much of a drop off overall in production. He had a solid 75 tackles with a sack and a pick last season in Minnesota. With Reggie Smith and Taylor Mays both itching for more PT at safety and Williams now in the mix, I doubt the 49ers would bring back Goldson.

The 49ers also sewed up a key part of offensive line Wednesday, signing 2-time pro-bowl center Jonathan Goodwin. I liked David Bass last year at center, but again, I think the 49ers upgraded with this move like they did with Rogers over Clements at corner. Goodwin was a staple for the best offense in the NFC the last few years protecting Drew Brees and helped in making whatever Saints back was carrying the ball, suitable. There was also a lot of buzz Wednesday pertaining to a guy the 49ers could sign who was actually at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara for a visit. That is pro bowl wideout Braylon Edwards. He's the guy I've been hoping for the 49ers to add on offense who could really make it go. Put Braylon Edwards alongside Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis and Alex Smith would have all the weapons he needed. Supposedly Edwards is also at the top of Arizona's radar, so the 49ers could deliver a double-blow to their division mates if they could sign him. I like Josh Morgan, but on a really good team, he's a #3 wideout, and right now with Crabtree shelved, he's the interim #1. The 49ers need a wide receiver, they know it, and their interest in Plaxico Burress, Malcom Floyd and now Braylon Edwards shows us they're serious about adding another target for Alex Smith. Now let's see if they can actually make it happen.

Across the bay, things got real tough for the Raiders Wednesday upon getting news that their top receiver and pro-bowl tight end Zach Miller will play in Seattle this year. Miller signed with the Seahawks and re-united with former coach Tom Cable to really help Seattle's passing game, and dismantle the Raiders'. Now the Raiders really need to up their efforts in order to get Kevin Boss in here, and even he is just a shadow of what Zach Miller is. Again, the Raiders are in a lot tougher position than the 49ers because of their salary cap situation, so it's not as surprising to see them quiet in free agency like it is San Francisco. On a positive note, they did re-sign OLB Kamerion Wimbley, who was a stud for them in his first year with the team last season, to a 5 year deal.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Options Dwindling for 49ers

Well, at the start of free agency, the 49ers stood in a very promising position. They were nearly 20 million under the cap and had specific targets who were thought to be attainable. However, as we inch towards the preseason opener at the end of next week, the 49ers have yet to add a prominent outside free-agent.

They did ink a linebacker over the weekend, grabbing former Charger Antwan Applewhite, who figures to come in and back up at the outside linebacker spot. He also could find himself in the starters role if the 49ers aren't able to replace Manny Lawson and don't feel Aldon Smith is ready for the full-time load. One guy who is available and has had success in the 3-4 defense is former Brown, Matt Roth. I think Roth is by far the best fit at OLB for the 49ers, as that is a position that is very thin in free agency. After Roth, the other options are guys like Tully Banta-Cain and Ben Leber. At inside linebacker, the 49ers are looking more and more likely to role with 2nd year man Navarro Bowman, but they could look for a veteran as their are some decent options. I would like Lofa Tatupu, but he's seeking a long-term deal and the 49ers eventually want Bowman teaming with Willis inside. Two other guys who would fit nicely as upgrades in the short-term are Akin Ayodele, Channing Crowder and former Raider Kirk Morrison.

Perhaps San Francisco's biggest need yet to addressed though is their cornerback situation. They won't be bringing back Nate Clements either, who landed in Cinci after the 49ers cut him to make a run at Asomugha and Joseph. Now the one guy I'm looking at and the guy the 49ers are probably pining their hopes on is former first round pick Carlos Rogers. Washington is expected to make a large push to keep Rogers in DC, but you'd think he would have signed already if he wanted to be there. The 49ers may need to overpay a bit as he's the best available FA corner that won't cost a draft pick to sign and would be a fine consolation to Nnamdi Asomugha. One of the biggest names on the trade market at the CB position is the Eagles' Asante Samuel. He became expendable after Philly added Rogers-Crowmartie in the Kevin Kolb trade, but Philly would likely want the 49ers 1st or 2nd rounder in 2012. The 49ers could also look to upgrade at defensive tackle, depending on how Issac Sopogoa adapts. One big name, in all every since of the word, is Pat Williams, who could be a nice clog in the middle of the 3-4 scheme for a year.

Offensively, the 49ers are still looking at wide receivers and centers. They have apparently been in talks with Braylon Edwards' agent, but may shy off after all the off-field drama he's been involved in this summer. I still think he'd be a great add and is one of the top free agents still out there, and if the Niners are indeed going to make a splash this year, it looks like Edwards could be that signing. Even though most of the top options have signed elsewhere, I think the 49ers could still be successful in free agency if they were to bring in Olin Kruetz, Edwards (or Malcom Floyd if they can't agree with Edwards), Carlos Rogers at corner, Matt Roth at OLB and give a 1-2 year deal for Ayodele or Morrison to take over Takeo Spikes' former role. Oh yeah, and bring back Dashon already!