Defense expects to be among the league’s elite

This was a headline in the June 8th San Francisco Chronicle in the “49ers Beat” area, penned by Niner “beat” reporter John Crumpacker. Well of course  it’s indeed a worthy objective to strive for an elite defense, but “expecting” to “doing” are quite different things altogether. That’s not to say the Niner defense could not be very good in 2009, but in my small mind there remain many questions for this happen. First and foremost the announced front three of Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, and Justin Smith are not exactly a sack attack. The entire Niner DL contingent produced 10 sacks in 2008, 7 of which were recorded by one player, Justin Smith. The new and improved 2009 strategy to rush the passer is apparently going to be the duo of Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson playing a huge role in supporting the pretty benign DL. Haralson showed last year that he can definitely get after the QB. He played a lot of stand up DE/LB in college at Tennessee and clearly has learned a lot about chasing down QB’s, both there, and in the NFL. Lawson was billed as a QB killer coming out of N.C. State as a number one pick, but has yet to fulfil that legacy. A serious injury in 2007 evaporated that season for him and he was slow to return to form in 2008.  Can Lawson be the player the Niners need/want at the outside LB position?  The jury is certainly still way out on this.  The defensive backfield needs to make a whole lot more plays in 2009, especially the safeties, where a ball has not been intercepted since Reagan was in the White House. Well, not exactly, but the safety position needs to make way more contributions to the defense in 2009 to make the whole thing roll. Mark Roman goes to the bench (thank gawd), and Dashon Goldson now has his chance to be a playmaker. Michael Lewis has been adequate since his arrival from Phily and perhaps with Roman not boat anchoring the safety position, can be more productive.  I liked Walt Harris’ savvy and experience at one DB, but he is gone to a season ending injury and perhaps was vulnerable to lose his job anyway? Dre’ Bly or Tarell Brown playing opposite Nate Clements will probably be OK.  So, lots of questions, and lots of ifs. It will be interesting to see how they all play out and whether the Niners can field a defense that can really help make them a contender.



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