The defensive backs

The 49ers ranked 24th against the pass in 2010, and their secondary could be even shakier in 2011.

Their best cornerback, Nate Clements, signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Trent Baalke has yet to sign anyone to replace him.

He did sign a safety today. His name is Madieu Williams, and he presumably will replace free agent safety Dashon Goldson.

Baalke says he has a plan that requires patience. How patient will he be to improve the secondary?

The safety group is probably set, barring injury. But it’s unproven.

The cornerbacks are not set. In fact, they could have zero starting-caliber cornerbacks on the roster. Remember, when asked a couple days ago if Shawntae Spencer was a lock to be a starter, Vic Fangio said he’s “in the hunt.” That’s not a ringing endorsement.

Trent Baalke drafted Chris Culliver in the third round to play corner, but he was a safety in college. Two days ago he said this: “Me and coach discussed that I’m going to play corner, and if that doesn’t work out hopefully I can get a chance to play safety, but for right now, corner.”

There’s also Phillip Adams, but he’s coming back from a broken ankle. He’s a backup at best in 2011.

So what will the 49ers do at cornerback?

My guess is Baalke will sign an older, veteran corner, like Lito Sheppard, to a bargain one-year deal. Then, he’ll draft either Stefon Gilmore from South Carolina or Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska with the 49ers’ first round pick.

That would seem to fit Baalke’s plan.


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