Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Thursday, August 14, 2008
Mailbag: 49ers' fallback options

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Philip from Sunnyvale, Calif., writes: I've always been a 49er fan through the bad times of times of the 80's and early 90's to the bad times now. I'm giving you a comment more than a question. Do you think the 49ers brought in Mike Martz to replace Mike Nolan if the 49ers don't at least finish 8-8 this year? I think they did, and then will promote Mike Singletary to Defensive Coordinator. What are your thoughts on that?

Mike Sando: I don't think the 49ers made the Martz hire with that in mind. Mike Nolan appeared to be behind the hire more than management or ownership was behind the hire. Yes, Martz would be a logical candidate for the job if the 49ers decided to make a change, and Singletary's name has surfaced for jobs. Also, don't forget about defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. He appears to be a rising coach. I would expect his name to surface if the situation arose as you described.

It's awfully early to be discussing such things, but the 49ers did nearly make a change after last season. The pressure is definitely high in San Francisco. A fast start would help.


Jeff from Calgary writes: Hey Mike I was wondering what your impression of Ali Highsmith was at training camp. With the addition of Brandon Moore do you think he is likely to make it past roster cuts?

Mike Sando: Highsmith does have a chance to earn a roster spot, but I would consider it an outside chance. He signed with Arizona in part because he liked his chances there. But the practice squad might be a more realistic expectation for an undrafted rookie. Highsmith projects as an inside linebacker, but he's in the 230-pound range, which is light. The Cardinals don't have a problem with smaller inside linebackers -- Moore isn't huge by 3-4 standards -- but Highsmith might need time to develop.


Jake from Fresno, Calif., writes: Mike! Do you think Jackson will suit up Week 1?

Mike Sando: Darrell Jackson no longer plays for the 49ers, but I do expect Lawrence Jackson to suit up for the Seahawks. On the off chance you're asking about Steven Jackson, I have no idea. Seriously, logic says they get a deal done. That is my feeling still.

But Jackson does have a relatively low base salary, so he could afford to miss a few games to make his point. And he doesn't need to report until Nov. 3 to fulfill his contract. The Rams can't enter the season without him, can they?


Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, The emergence of Dashon Goldson is great, since guys like Mark Roman and Keith Lewis will "wow' nobody. But why not give Reggie Smith the versatility as a weapon, especially if he's buried in the CB depth chart? And potentially develop a starter down the line? I know flip-flopping rookies between positions is risky, particularly in the secondary. Usually if a guy isn't good enough to stick at one position it means he's not good enough to play either. But we used a pick on the kid, I'm a big Oklahoma fan (really wanted the Niners to take Curtis Lofton), and they should develop since they may be mediocre at best this year. Of course Nolan has to win to keep his job, which likely means another rebuilding. Thanks.

Mike Sando: Thanks for the followup question. My previous answer was admittedly a little light. I don't see an immediate need to move Smith to safety, but he does project well there over the long term. He moved between the positions in college and some scouts thought safety would be his natural position in the NFL. Teams can sometimes save roster spots by having swing players. Jordan Babineaux backs up at corner and safety for the Seahawks.


Brandon from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Since this is our last year w/ Holmgren at the helm, do you have any insight into how the offensive and/or defensive schemes will change during the Mora era? Will we still be a West Coast Offense? I am mostly curious because the Hawks offense flows out from Hasselbeck and he hasn't been anything but a WC QB since entering this league. I am a little hesitant to mess with his comfort area because, as seen w/ Jeff Garcia in Detroit and Cleveland, some QB's have a hard time adapting to a different scheme after they spend the majority of their careers as WC QBs. Thanks for your insight.

Mike Sando: I expect the Seahawks to maintain a version of the West Coast offense. Additional staff changes could be on the way once Holmgren steps aside. Mora's ties to Raiders assistants Greg Knapp and Tom Rathman could come into play. Both are thought to have the contractual flexibility needed to pursue other jobs after this season. Knapp's name has already surfaced as a potential offensive coordinator in Seattle.


Jon from Seattle writes: Sando, in one of your repsonses you question what Alex Smith would have to do to win the job. Has anyone asked Nolan that? How about asking him when you next visit the team?

Mike Sando: A good idea. I'll be visiting the 49ers next week.


Joe from San Francisco writes: Mike... Thank you for your comprehensive work on the NFC West. I enjoy it every day. One question: If the Niners go for a veteran QB or in another direction....which veteran QB's are free agents right now and are there any sleeper 2nd/3rd string QB's on other teams we could trade for? Thanks.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Joe. Looking through the list of available players is not a pleasant endeavor. Daunte Culpepper is easily the most attractive option on paper. The Dolphins might not keep 2007 second-round choice John Beck, but Beck has no experience. The 49ers would not be better off plugging him in as a starter without any knowledge of the offense. Chris Simms could be available.

Teams have drafted seven quarterbacks in the second round since 2002 (Brian Brohm, Chad Henne, Kevin Kolb, Beck, Drew Stanton, Kellen Clemens and Tarvaris Jackson).

Third-round quarterbacks drafted since 2002 include Kevin O'Connell, Trent Edwards, Charlie Whitehurst, Brodie Croyle, Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter, David Green, Matt Schaub, Dave Ragone, Simms and Josh McCown.

John Clayton recently ran a list of available veterans. Culpepper, Craig Nall, Tim Rattay and Aaron Brooks headed the list. 


David from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Mike-- first, thanks for the attention on the west. Prior to you, coverage was rare in frequency and shallow in analysis. My question: the Cardinal roster looks the best it has been in some time (an admittedly low bar to clear). From an unbiased, outsiders perspective, is winning at least 9 games a realistic expectation for this team? Thank again.

Mike Sando: That is definitely a realistic expectation for this team, but don't get too caught up in the record this season. The Cardinals finally seem to have a good plan in place. They have some stability with Ken Whisenhunt.

Arizona needs to improve its depth, develop Matt Leinart, build some continuity on the offensive line and get some luck with injuries.

I've hit on the final seven games of the schedule already. They are difficult. This team could go 8-8 or 7-9 and still be headed in the right direction as long as Leinart develops. 

Yes, Arizona fans have earned the right to take a bottom-line attitude with this team, but I'm evaluating the Cardinals with more of a big-picture view in mind (easier to do for those of us not paying thousands for season tickets). If I were a Cardinals fan, I wouldn't trade places with Rams fans or 49ers fans right now.


Tyler from Chicago writes: Why is Steven Jackson's holdout not getting a lot of attention? He is a top 5 back and the media barely covers it.

Mike Sando: There simply hasn't been much to cover in terms of developments, and the Rams play in a market without as many media outlets. Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has covered the situation hard. I've hit on it periodically. This becomes a bigger story if Jackson misses regular-season games.