Harris’ injury most significant on-field development

Today is the first day of the remainder of the NFL offseason. To commemorate this momentous occasion, the staff here at Instant 49ers is starting a perhaps-daily feature we like to call “Question of the Day.”

Rather than coming up with topics to write about on my own, I’ll turn the thinking over to you to supply me with a question a day – more or less – that I’ll attempt to answer. I already have a few stockpiled. I’ll try to choose the best questions – or, more accurately, the questions I feel most comfortable answering.


Here’s the first question of the day . . .


Question: Having been at all the practices of minicamps and OTAs, what would you say has been the most significant on-field development with the 49ers?


Answer: Alex Smith is healthy and throwing the football with zip. Josh Morgan is running well and catching everything in sight. Vernon Davis appears as if he’ll be a big part of the offense. Manny Lawson is lining up at defensive end to get after the quarterback in pass-rush situations.


Yes, those are all things I saw on the practice field.


But they really don’t mean much right now because I have no idea how/if they will carry over into the regular season. My take on offseason practices is that the only developments of real significance that have an actual tangible impact on the season are negative.


Therefore, the biggest development during practice was the season-ending injury to presumptive starting cornerback Walt Harris. He is out for the season after tearing up his right knee during practice last month.


After Harris’ injury, the 49ers signed veteran cornerback Dre’ Bly to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. Bly and third-year player Tarell Brown – and, possibly, Shawntae Spencer – will compete for the starting job at right cornerback.


The loss of Harris is certainly disappointing for the 49ers. It’s a significant development, to be sure. But who’s to say that the new starter will not be more productive than the old starter? We’ll have to see what kind of play the 49ers get from the right cornerback position before determining how Harris’ injury affected the team.


The 49ers have been reluctant to inject any youth in their secondary in the past several seasons. But the 49ers have already promoted Dashon Goldson to the starting job at free safety. The 49ers would have a very nice blend of veterans and youth if Brown wins the job.


Brown was a player the 49ers rated as a third-round talent who was still available in the fifth round because of a couple off-field incidents. He was seen throughout the league as a character risk. To this point, Brown has not been a concern off the field. The only incident in which he has been involved was a bizarre practice-field fight with Trent Dilfer during the regular season in 2007. (But Dilfer probably had it coming.)


Brown is not lacking in confidence, and he has played pretty well when he’s gotten a chance. In limited action last season, Brown had two interceptions, tying him with Nate Clements and just one behind team-leaders Harris and Takeo Spikes.


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