Checking in with 49ers’ defense after OTAs

The 49ers – or most of them, anyway – stepped on the practice field Monday and Tuesday for the first time in preparation of the 2010 season.

 

Yesterday, we provided looks at the 49ers’ offensive players. Today, we look at the defense. Because the practices were noticeably less than game speed, as well as non-padded, there weren’t a whole lot of defensive highlights.

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Defensive line

60-Khalif Mitchell: The undrafted rookie from East Carolina came to the 49ers as a nose tackle. They brought him back to the practice squad during the season as an offensive lineman. Now, he’s back on the defensive line. He was the team’s No. 3 left defensive end at OTAs.

78-Derek Walker: The 49ers claimed him off waivers from the Seahawks in late December. He’ll get a chance to show what he has this offseason. He lined up No. 3 on depth chart at right defensive end.

90-Isaac Sopoaga: The starters at left defensive end, he might get pushed some this season if the 49ers invest an early pick in a defensive lineman.

91-Ray McDonald: This is a big offseason for him after missing six months of work a year ago rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery. McDonald’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

92-Aubrayo Franklin: He did not attend the OTAs. He remains unsigned and available to negotiate with other teams after the 49ers tendered him at $7 million this season as their “franchise player.”

93-Demetric Evans: The veteran lined up as the No. 2 man at right defensive end. His experience (entering his ninth season) and professionalism makes him an attractive player to assume any backup role.

94-Justin Smith: The starter at right defensive end. The 49ers are as comfortable with him as any player on the roster.

95-Ricky Jean-Francois: Listed at 295 a year ago, he is now at 305 and working solely at nose tackle. RJF said he doesn’t even remember where he played last season because his head was swimming as a rookie. He does not have prototypical “nose tackle bulk,” but he said his strength is not an issue. Also, he said he uses Franklin as his model. Because he is not a 350-pounder, he said he must rely on technique.

96-Kentwan Balmer: Did not participate in the drills. But he was on the field, as he continues to rehab after season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. When Balmer had the surgery on Dec. 9, he was expected to have a six-month rehab.

 

Linebackers

50-Diyral Briggs: With the absences of Manny Lawson and Ahmad Brooks, Briggs took advantage of the situation with the vast majority of the repetitions at left outside linebacker. Briggs has added about 20 pounds from 230 pounds as a rookie to nearly 250 pounds.

51-Takeo Spikes: The OTAs were designed for the young players, but Spikes attended the two days of practices. He reinforced what a good locker-room influence he is. The 49ers pursued veteran free-agent Akin Ayodele as a backup. Seems to me, it might be better to draft an inside linebacker and have Spikes groom him for a year or two. Takeo Spikes would love to have that opportunity to mentor his distant cousin, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes.

52-Patrick Willis: He underwent a procedure in mid-March to remove a bursa sac from his knee, the team announced. But, as of Tuesday, he was still on crutches with his right knee in a bulky brace.

55-Ahmad Brooks: He did not attend. He’s a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his $1.759 million tender. Brooks remain able to negotiate with other teams. Unlike guard David Baas, Brooks has not signed a waiver as protection to participate in the offseason program.

56-Scott McKillop: He saw a lot of action, alongside Matt Wilhelm, at inside linebacker. McKillop seemed a lot more demonstrative on the field, as the 49ers’ inside linebackers historically have shown a lot of practice-field pizzazz when making pre-snap adjustments.

57-Matt Wilhelm: With Willis out of action for the OTAs, the eight-year veteran had a much bigger role in the practices at the starting “Mike” linebacker spot.

58-Martail Burnett: Signed to the practice squad in October, he’ll get a chance to show this offseaon and into training camp what he is able to offer.

98-Parys Haralson: He lined up at his typical starting spot at outside linebacker.

99-Manny Lawson: Oddly, he did not attend. Even more strange, when asked if there was anything that should be known about his client’s absence, agent Jonathan Feinsod replied via email, “No comment.” I can’t think of a football reason Lawson would not attend. He is entering the final year of his contract.

 

Defensive backs

20-Keith Smith: He was released in late-December to make a roster spot available for Derek Walker. He found himself with the first-team defense at right cornerback throughout the two days of practices.

22-Nate Clements: Did not attend. His agent, Todd France, also replied via email that there was nothing that should be known about Clements’ absence today. Word is that Clements is working out in Arizona with a new trainer. But there is still some intrigue about Clements’ future with the club. He has a scheduled $6 million salary for 2010. It’s unknown if the departure of GM Scot McCloughan will have any impact on his immediate status with the 49ers.

25-Tarell Brown: He started at left cornerback. As he enters his fourth season, Brown should be ready to take the next step. He was promoted to the starting lineup last season when the coaches determined he was better-suited to cover the Colts’ receivers than Clements. But when he struggled, he was demoted in favor of Dre’ Bly.

28-Curtis Taylor: He got work with the second team, alongside Reggie Smith. It’s a good comparison for the coaches to see Taylor and Smith on the field together, as there are no guarantees the 49ers will add another safety in the draft. He jumped a quick-hitting David Carr pass but dropped a would’ve-been interception/touchdown.

30-Reggie Smith: The coaches have amped up the pressure on Smith to get him ready. They want to challenge him to see if he can handle taking over for Mark Roman as the third safety.

32-Michael Lewis: If he has any self-doubts about entering his ninth NFL season after sustaining three concussions last year, he’s definitely not showing it. Lewis attended the “voluntary” OTAs and figures fill the same role in run support this season.

36-Shawntae Spencer: Did not attend. He had a good season, and he is scheduled to make a reasonable $2.85 million this season. His agent did not immediately respond when asked for an explanation behind Spencer’s absence, but there’s no reason to suspect anything is going on.

38-Dashon Goldson: He hired agent Drew Rosenhaus to negotiate a long-term extension. Some guys might stay away from a voluntary camp as a way of turning up the pressure on the team to work out a new contract, but Goldson apparently is taking care of business on the field. He enters the final year of his contract.

41-Karl Paymah: The recent acquisition lined up as the No. 2 right cornerback. He also saw action against the slot receiver.

 

Specialists

2-Shane Andrus: The 49ers signed him to a one-year contract Tuesday afternoon. He was not under contract during the OTAs.

4-Andy Lee: He was on hand during OTAs, but I didn’t see him do much.

6-Joe Nedney: See description of Lee.

86-Brian Jennings: See description of Lee and Nedney.

 

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