911 call for secondary: Is there a CB in the draft?

Late in the second quarter of the Niners’ 34-7 loss to San Diego on Thursday night, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers spotted the mismatch — wide receiver Vincent Jackson on linebacker Takeo Spikes — and lofted a pass to Jackson for a much-too-easy 11-yard touchdown.

After the game, Spikes didn’t reveal whether he was supposed to receive help on the play. Instead, he focused on Rivers, who made the play happen.

“He just knows every defense has a weakness,” Spikes said. “That’s what he’s good at.”

The weakness in the Niners’ defense isn’t hard to spot. And high-end quarterbacks such as Rivers have had an easy time picking apart their shaky secondary.


San Francisco has faced four quarterbacks currently ranked among the
NFL’s top 10 in passer rating — Rivers, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Kansas
City’s Matt Cassel and Green Bay’s Aaron Rogers — and that foursome has a
4-0 record while its teams have won by a combined score of 124-55.

The quartet’s numbers: 84 of 120 (70.0) for 1,075 yards (268.8 per game)
with 11 touchdowns and one interception. That’s an astronomical
quarterback rating of 124.8 — more than the combined rating of
Minnesota’s Brett Favre (69.6) and Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen (55.0).

On Friday, Niners coach Mike Singletary termed the secondary woes a
“work in progress.” That’s a stunning statement in Week 15 and a clear
indication that the defensive backfield, as it’s presently constituted,
won’t magically improve.

With that in mind, San Francisco will surely make a cornerback a high
priority in the draft. CB Nate Clements’ base salary will jump from $6
million to $7.25 million next season ($9 million in 2012, $10.77 in ’13
and $15.48 in ’14) and it’s possible he won’t be retained at that price.

There will be plenty of time to talk draft, but it’s not hard to
envision a scenario where the Niners take a corner with their first
pick.

Prior to Thursday’s loss, the Niners’ 5-8 record had them slotted to
draft eighth in the first round. At that spot, Stanford quarterback
Andrew Luck (assuming he leaves school) will, obviously, be gone. Would
the 49ers, barring a trade, spend a top-10 pick on a quarterback such
as Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett or Auburn’s Cam Newton
– who each come with their question marks?

The answer will arrive in a mere 131 days.

In the meantime, Alex Smith or Troy Smith?

• The 49ers placed OLB Travis LaBoy and K Joe Nedney on the
season-ending injured-reserve list due to knee injuries. TE Colin
Cloherty and DT Will Tukuafu were promoted from the practice squad to
the active roster.

LaBoy, who was injured Thursday against San Diego, will be sidelined six
to eight weeks but will not require surgery, according to the team.
LaBoy ranks second on the 49ers with five sacks. He had sacks in
back-to-back games against Green Bay and Seattle this month after not
registering a sack in six straight games.

LaBoy, who was out of football in 2009 due to a foot injury, will be a free agent after this season.

Nedney has been sidelined since injuring his plant knee on the opening
kickoff on Nov. 14 against St. Louis. The Niners have since signed K Jeff Reed and the veteran placekicker has made 7 of 7 field goals,
including two 44-yarders.

The Niners signed Cloherty, an undrafted free agent (’09) from Brown, to
the practice squad on Oct. 6. Tukuafu, an undrafted free agent from
Oregon, was released by the team following training camp, but signed to
the practice squad on Sept. 5.

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