Niners’ defensive review

Niners’ defensive review


On Sunday, we provided a player-by-player look at the 49ers’ offense. Today, we turn to the defense and specialists.


Defensive line

60-Khalif Mitchell: He’s been seeing time with the No. 3 defense at nose tackle. He’s big, at 6-5, 318, and he shows some flashes. But he has not shown consistency from one practice to the next. He also needs to get in better shape.

67-Pannel Egboh: He looks the part, but he’s very, very raw. At 6-6, 276, he must play with better leverage. He might be worth developing if he continues to show a desire to improve throughout the exhibition season. He’s lining up at left end with the No. 3 defense.

90-Isaac Sopoaga: He is having a good camp, seeing time as a starter at left end and as a backup at the nose. Sopoaga has a tendency, though, to just try and maul people, rather than use his athleticism and technique to make plays. His good plays seem to come in bunches.

91-Ray McDonald: Underwent offseason ACL reconstruction on his right knee, and is on the active/physically-unable-to-perform list. There is no word when he might be cleared to practice.

92-Aubrayo Franklin: He is not the typical anchor at nose tackle. Once the 49ers used him less as a two-gapper, he began to really come on last season. In camp, he’s doing the things that made him successful, and that’s using is quickness and movement. He appears to be in the best shape since he came to the team in 2007.

93-Demetric Evans: He’s showing why they signed him as a free agent. He’s a technically sound veteran. Although he’s not a starter, he’s somebody who can play a number of different positions on the line and fit seamlessly into the rotation.

94-Justin Smith: He came to camp focused and in good shape, which is no surprise. He’s one of the true professionals on the team. He has put himself in position to have another outstanding season.

95-Ricky Jean-Francois: Activated from non-football illness list (staph infection) a week ago. He has shown enough on the practice field for the 49ers to feel justified in selecting him. But he’s still young and inexperienced, and faces an uphill battle to contribute on Sundays. He’s working at right defensive end.

96-Kentwan Balmer: The coaching staff is very encouraged by what they’ve seen from him. He figures to get a lot of playing time this season. I’ve never doubted his work ethic and desire, but he plays a position that is difficult to evaluate because left defensive ends do not make a lot of plays in this defense. Regardless, if his production does not take a huge step forward, it will be a major disappointment. The 49ers remain high on him.



47-Diyral Briggs: The rookie from Bowling Green has shown some ability, but he simply does not have the pass-rush moves from the Will linebacker position to be a factor at this stage. If he can work it out, the 49ers will want to keep him around on the practice squad.

50-Justin Roland: The first-year player looks to be a very good leader. He takes charge in the huddle when he’s playing the “Mike” spot. However, it’s questionable whether he has the physical ability to compete at this level. He must show he can be a playmaker in the exhibition season.

51-Takeo Spikes: He is nothing but a positive influence on Patrick Willis. Spikes is entering his 12th NFL season, but he still has a lot of enthusiasm for his job. There’s no big rush to get a younger guy into the action as long as he’s around.

52-Patrick Willis: He’s been out since Aug. 3 with an ankle strain. No worries here.

53-Jeff Ulbrich: He’s gotten most of the reps at the “Mike” with Willis out. Ulbrich is a solid backup who figures to be one of the core special-teamers.

54-Marques Harris: His job is to get to the quarterbacks, and he has not done that consistently on the practice field. But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky wanted him on the team for a reason. He coached him with the Chargers. Harris has to show up in pass-rush situations and on special teams in the exhibition season.

55-Ahmad Brooks: His move from inside linebacker to full-time pass-rush outside linebacker has been a huge success. When Parys Haralson was down for several days with a hip injury, Brooks stepped up and showed to be the most-improved player in camp. He has put himself on solid footing to earn a roster spot.

56-Scott McKillop: He makes a lot of rookie mistakes with technique and assignments, but that’s only natural. The club is not the least-bit concerned. He’s a special-teamer and backup “Ted,” who is earmarked as a future starter.

57-Mark Washington: He falls into the same category as Roland. Washington shows that he likes to compete, but he must show the ability to play faster. He’s currently third at “Ted” behind Spikes and McKillop.

58-Jay Moore: He did not have a good start to training camp. But on the same day he looked as if he was turning the corner with several good plays, he sustained a deep finger laceration and sat out three days. He must avoid injuries and have a good preseason to have any hopes of sticking around. He has practice-squad eligibility, but if he does not make it, the 49ers might decide it’s time to move on. Moore is lining up with the third team at strong outside linebacker.

98-Parys Haralson: He has practiced very well since coming back from a right hip flexor strain, which he sustained on the first day of camp. Haralson is a regular presence in the backfield. There seems to be little question, he is the team’s best pass-rusher.

99-Manny Lawson: Initially, I did not see much pass-rush from Lawson after the pads went. But in the past week, he has shown steady improvement. The exhibition season will give him an opportunity to test his moves. He must show more variety, as he can’t expect to have any success if he uses a speed rush around the corner every single time.


Defensive backs

20-Allen Rossum: He is getting far more action at cornerback than he did a year ago, when he was considered almost exclusively a return specialist. He’s having a pretty solid camp, and might fill an emergency game-day role as a fourth or fifth cornerback.

22-Nate Clements: Somebody who knows a lot about CB play told me — after watching Clements this summer — that he is not as technically sound as you’d expect from a nine-year veteran. He is susceptible to double-moves because he sometimes commits to the receiver’s first move before the wideout takes his third step. A receiver can make a double-move on the first step or the third step, and if a corner closes before the third step, he can’t recover. OK, that said, Clements brings a lot more positive than negative to the table. He’s still clearly the team’s best corner.

23-Marcus Hudson: He’s having a good camp, but he still makes too many mistakes for a fourth-year pro. Every year, he shows just enough promise and potential to stick on the team. His value on special teams works to his benefit. He is seeing action at left cornerback.

25-Tarell Brown: Opened camp competing for starting job at right cornerback, but he’s been out since the first day of cam with a toe sprain. When he returns, he’ll have a fair opportunity to win the job.

26-Mark Roman: His knowledge of the defense makes him a good fit for backup duty at either safety spot. It’s been a typical camp for Roman: He doesn’t not give up many big plays, but he also does not make any impact positive plays, either.

28-Curtis Taylor: Aside from Dashon Goldson, Taylor probably has more physical ability than anybody in the secondary. He’s big and fast. His problem are his eyes. He has to learn exactly what he’s looking at and be able to make split-second decisions. He has been out of position numerous times because he’s still learning to diagnose situations. There are questions about his instincts, but he is an intriguing prospect.

30-Reggie Smith: He’s up and he’s down. Smith did not “wow” the 49ers’ decision-makers at corner, so now he’s getting his chance at safety. He’s getting better, but he’s still not good enough to see action in the regular season.

31-Dre’ Bly: The veteran started camp as the backup right cornerback. He was moved into the starting lineup on the second day after Brown was injured. Bly has not cemented the starting job, but it looks as if he still has value to the team – even if it’s not as a starter.

32-Michael Lewis: He takes on even more responsibility this summer, as he helps youngster Dashon Goldson adjust to a starting role. Lewis has been beaten by the deep ball, which is expected. His strength is playing close to the line of scrimmage.

35-Jahi Word-Daniels: Playing third team at right cornerback. Has yet to distinguish himself among the other rookie corners.

36-Shawntae Spencer: He has not taken a day off during camp, which is a good sign after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Spencer is lining up at right cornerback. He’s in the mix for a job in the nickel defense.

38-Dashon Goldson: He is having a very good camp. Goldson is around the ball a lot and has delivered some inadvertent hits on his offensive teammates. Once the games begin, I suspect you’ll see some him eager for contact. He is a presence in the secondary, that’s for sure. He is able to create turnovers and make receivers think twice about venturing into his territory. Also, it has to be encouraging that he has seldom let big plays get behind him in camp.

40-Carlos Thomas: Sat out practice Monday with hamstring strain, which is not expected to be serious. He needs to be at full strength for the exhibition game, when he has a chance to show his worth.

41-Terrail Lambert: Sat out practice Monday with a right hip injury. He is expected to return shortly (perhaps today). Lambert, Word-Daniels and Thomas are all in the same situation. The 49ers would love for one of those players to prove he’s worthy of keeping on the practice squad to develop.


Special teams

3-Alex Romero: He’s the camp leg, as he poses no threat to the incumbents. Romero is not a punter, and it shows. However, he appears to do a commendable job on placekicks. Romero serves a valuable duty, preventing Lee and Nedney from overwork. By handling both punting and kicking, he also saves the 49ers a roster spot.

4-Andy Lee: He is striking the ball very well, as if it’s being shot out of a canon. Lee should take another step this season as establishing himself as one of the game’s best punters.

6-Joe Nedney: As a 14-year pro, Nedney knows how to handle training camp. He’s not in competition, so he’s staying strong and avoiding over-use.

86-Jennings: The long-snapper, fresh off signing a long-term extension, is doing just fine.


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