Ten of the most pertinent 49ers-related offseason questions

The folks at Niners Nation recently asked me if I’d take part in a 49ers Q&A. We came up with an idea. We’d give our answers; they would give their answers; and anybody who has an opinion will get a chance to let their voices be heard, too.

Here are 10 of the most pertinent 49ers-related questions at this juncture of the offseason:


1. Who on the roster has the best chance of being the starting QB heading into week 1 of the regular season?

Shaun Hill. Shaun Hill. Shaun Hill.


If Mike Martz were still the coordinator, he would’ve made a big push to get J.T. O’Sullivan back in the role of the starter. But Martz is gone, and O’Sullivan will not be re-signed. Hill is the only QB on the roster who will definitely be back on the team next season.


Obviously, there is a strong chance Alex Smith will sign a re-worked deal. But even if Smith is back, I just can’t see him winning the job over Hill, whose production (7-3 record in 10 starts) gives him the clear advantage.


The best case for Smith is to accept a reduced salary, keep working hard, get healthy and be ready when/if he’s needed behind Hill.


2. Can Shaun Hill overcome his practice woes in the Jimmy Raye offense?


He can – and he will – because Mike Singletary will be calling the shots.


Singletary knows what Hill can do in the games. Singletary knows Hill sometimes struggles in practice and he will not allow too much weight to be placed on Hill’s appearance on the practice field. If you want to know what Hill sometimes looks like on the practice field, think about the first three quarters of the Rams game late in the season.


This offense will play to Hill’s strengths. He’ll be asked to manage the game. The 49ers’ passing game will be predicated on the threat of the run. Therefore, Hill will use play-action and throw short-to-intermediate passes. That is what he does best. That is Hill’s comfort level, and that should show on the practice field, too.


3. Can Frank Gore give Singletary what he wants out of his “smash-mouth” offense?  If not, what kind of addition would it take?

He can, but I think the 49ers would like to create more of a two-headed monster when it comes to the run game. The 49ers can’t become so dependent on Gore that they don’t have a legitimate option behind him.


The 49ers should make an effort to find somebody through the draft or free agency to split time with Gore on a more consistent basis – let’s say 60-40. Maybe that person is Thomas Clayton. But Clayton will have to beat out a veteran pickup or a draft pick to earn that job.


4. Is there any hope for Vernon Davis?

Sure. Vernon Davis does not have the best hands in the world, but the one thing that kept his catches down last season was the fact that he remained into block a good portion of the time on pass plays. There really is not a role for a pass-catching tight end in Martz’s offense.


Just look back to 2007. The 49ers’ passing game was horrendous. Yet, Davis still caught 52 passes. All things considered, it was amazing he had that many receptions. Mike Singletary likes Davis, and I’m sure has already made it a point of emphasis to Jimmy Raye to get Davis involved in the pass game – as something more than a blocker.


As a team, the 49ers had 35 more pass completions in 2008, yet Davis caught 21 fewer passes. In fact, Davis was the intended target on just 49 passes. That is fewer than the number of passes he caught in 2007, when he also missed 2 ½ games due to a knee injury. He is fully capable of putting up big numbers as a receiver.

5. At what point in the offseason should the 49ers make a move for a QB?

The 49ers will add a veteran before the team’s first minicamp in March. They need the extra arm to take part in the three days of practices. But who will that person be? The 49ers tried to claim Browns’ castoff Bruce Gradkowski, but the Raiders beat them to the punch. They will need another arm for the minicamp, which takes part before the draft.


I know the 49ers would have been interested in acquiring Jeff Garcia last summer. They might kick the tires on him this spring when he becomes a free agent. Either way, the 49ers would probably be wise to grab a quarterback at some point in the draft – probably the mid rounds.


6. What three potential free agents are the most realistic for the 49ers to sign?

Everybody’s favorites are Julius Pepper, Terrell Suggs, Jordan Gross and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But that might be asking too much. GM Scot McCloughan sees the free-agent signing period as a time to fill holes and the draft as a time to take the best players.


The 49ers certainly have holes at pass rusher, offensive tackle and wide receiver. But those are not the only areas of need.


The 49ers would like to get a safety, and they should be able to get a good one in free agency without breaking the bank. Perhaps the Rams’ O.J. Atogwe could fit into their budget (if not, then try the Bucs’ Jermaine Phillips).


They can also grab an offensive tackle. It probably won’t be Gross, but they might go after Jacksonville‘s Khalif Barnes, who is a pretty darn good left tackle. He’s good in pass protection, and the Jaguars averaged 6.04 yards on rushing attempts over left tackle – second-best in the league. But would the 49ers want to move Joe Staley back to right tackle?


As for the pass-rusher, I’m not convinced the 49ers will get a big-name guy, such as Suggs or Peppers, in free agency.


But they could fill a need and not eat up too much cap room with a fullback such as the Seahawks’ Leonard Weaver, a four-year veteran who has many years ahead of him. Of course, they could also re-sign Moran Norris, who lost his job at the end of camp to Zak Keasey. So there you have it, instead of three players I gave you a little extra for your money.


7. What spot on defense is in most need of an upgrade?

The pass rush. A good pass rush solves a lot of problems. And the 49ers have not put together a strong, consistent pass rush for a good many years.


8. If Malcolm Jenkins is there at 10 do the 49ers go with him, or is Tarell Brown a legit option to replace Walt Harris?

It depends on which players have been chosen with the first nine picks. Right now, I’d say there are four offensive tackles that might be safer selections than going with Jenkins.


Tarell Brown showed some very good things late in the season when he began to get extended playing time late in the season. But, at the same time, the 49ers will not allow that to stand in their way if they evaluate Jenkins as the best player on the board at that time. You can never have too many cornerbacks.


I don’t think there is any position that is off the board with the No. 10 pick. The 49ers can’t make the mistake of drafting for need at that spot in the draft.

9. Can Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson provide a consistent pass rush or do they need to make a play for some more well-known talent?


Haralson has some ability to provide a pass rush, but Lawson has not shown any glimpses of being a legitimate pass-rush threat in the NFL. In fact, Lawson comes off the field whenever the opposition has a “passing down.” I don’t foresee him being a factor as a pass-rusher.


The 49ers must improve dramatically at the spot held by Roderick Green and Tully Banta-Cain last season. Green was their primary third-down pass rusher off the right side. He did not produce. Green had just 3.5 sacks. Banta-Cain recorded just four sacks in two seasons, and the club cut ties with him Tuesday.


Haralson is a good player, and I think he’ll continue to get better. But if the 49ers can get somebody to bring some juice on the other side of the formation, then Haralson can really thrive.


10. Will Dashon Goldson be able to secure a starting job at some point this season?


I don’t believe so. I think if the 49ers find someone to replace Mark Roman at free safety, there’s a strong chance it will be a veteran free agent or draft pick.


Goldson has shown flashes, mostly in practice and in exhibition games, of being a good player. But he needs to be more consistent and earn the confidence of the coaching staff with his knowledge of the defense. There’s a reason, in the opinion of the coaches, that Roman has not been challenged for the starting job.


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