The 49ers took the first step in ensuring success for the 2001 season with the signing of Derek Smith. The 49ers have several needs for this upcoming season, but none were bigger than the need for a linebacker after the release of Ken Norton and Winfred Tubbs. This signing will allow the 49ers to concentrate on the needs at other positions in the draft on April 21st and 22nd. The 49ers still need to fill spots at defensive line, offensive line, running back, tight end and wide receiver.

Derek Smith, the free agent middle linebacker from the Washington Redskins, brings a great deal of leadership, experience and toughness to the 49ers linebacking corps as said by Terry Donahue. Derek has been a starter for Washington since they drafted him in 1997 out of Arizona State.

In his first game as a professional Derek recorded 9 tackles against the Carolina Panthers. He finished his rookie season with 128 total tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

In 1998 he had 157 total tackles, 103 solo, 3 QB pressures, 3 passes defensed, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

In 1999 he switched to middle linebacker and finished with 127 total tackles, 83 solo, 3 QB pressures, 7 passes defensed, an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery. He had career high 18 tackles against Buffalo in week 8 and recorded team high 11 tackles against Tampa Bay in the playoffs.

In 2000 he finished with 89 tackles, a sack and 3 passes defensed. He had 5 games with 10 or more tackles.

I believe that with Derek in the middle and Julian Peterson and Jeff Ulbrich on the outside, the 49ers will have a solid starting linebacking corps. Add Jeff Posey into the mix and the 49ers are looking very impressive at this position.

What is next for the 49ers? They are in negotiations with Brentson Buckner and Scott Gragg. The 49ers would very much like to sign both of these players, but are in a difficult position. It is likely the 49ers will not have the money, to sign either of these players, until after June 1st with the release of Jerry Rice and the retirement of Chris Dalman.

The 49ers have had discussions with Zack Bronson and Monty Montgomery about returning to the team. Both players have expressed an interest and are understanding of the 49ers cap situation. They realize that the 49ers will not be in a position to make a realistic offer until after June 1st.

It has been rumored that Roy Barker has offered to play for the 49ers at the league minimum salary for veteran players. Barker played for the 49ers from 1996 to 1998. He was a very effective pass rusher for the 49ers recording 30 sacks in his 3 years with the team. In 1996 he had 12.5 sacks and a league leading 8 forced fumbles. Since 1998 he has not played very much in brief stints with Cleveland, Green Bay and Minnesota. This does present the 49ers with a viable option at a position that does need some depth. This would be a good move for the 49ers only if Barker was able to perform at the same level he did in his previous stay with the team.

I see the 49ers trying to fulfill as many holes as they can with the draft. The priorities are running back, defensive linemen, offensive linemen, tight end, wide receiver and cornerback. The 49ers have the 9th pick in the draft. It is possible that they would trade that pick, but only if the trade left them in a position to get a top player in the first round and additional picks in the second or third rounds. This is the last draft which Bill Walsh will be the main decision maker so I am expecting him to make whatever moves necessary to have a high quality one.

I see the 49ers likely keeping the 9th pick in the draft, unless they receive an offer too good to pass up. With that pick I believe they will select the best athlete available, most likely a running back or defensive lineman. With their other picks they will be looking to add depth to most other positions.

The signing of Derek Smith certainly is a big help to the line backing corps, but if there were a top quality athlete available in the second or third rounds it would be wise for the 49ers to select another linebacker.

In the early rounds I imagine that running back, defensive line and offensive line will be the priorities then Bill Walsh will switch to the best players available in order to add depth at the other positions. Walsh has been noted for making great late round selections. This being the last draft he will be involved with, I expect him to make many trades for additional picks and make some selections that will surprise everyone.

After the draft the 49ers will be in a better position to evaluate their needs. At that time they will be able to start planning where to spend the money that will be freed up after the release of Jerry Rice and the retirement of Chris Dalman.

As 49er fans we must not be depressed that this will be the last draft for Bill Walsh, since he has trained his replacement. We can look forward to many more productive drafts and decision making by Terry Donahue and John McVay.

I am getting very excited for the 2001 season already. I believe we will be seeing a much-improved team on the field in 2001.  I have faith in the people in the front office to make the necessary decisions to ensure that the 49ers will be a better team this season and in the future.

With one season under their belt, the many young players on the 49ers will be more prepared entering this season. I believe the 49er defense may have a whole new look in 2001, but it will be one that will bring back memories of the old 49ers.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.