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The following is the transcript from the live fan chat between the fans of the two sites, 49erswebzone.com and 49ersparadise.com, and San Francisco 49ers beat writer Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. Matt has been covering the 49ers since 2003.
JD81 asks: How do you think the WR positions will end up? Martz is raving about BJ and Lelie, with Bruce impressing thus far as well.
Barrows: Well, Bryant Johnson seemed to be the favorite target over the weekend. And Bruce looked good, too. I'd put those guys as the top two with Battle, Hill and lelie battling for no. 3
D-roc asks: It is very early however, it sounds like Josh Mogan impressed in last weeks mini camp, could he surprised us in TC next summer?
Barrows: Morgan reminds me a lot of jason Hill -- big guy with some speed. Hopefully, the Niners and the Gatekeeper have learned from last year and will give Morgan a chance ...
Guest 5328 asks: Why didn't the Niners take Groves or Merling? Banta and Haralson combined dont have nearly the atheleticism as these guys.
Barrows: Great question. They obviously thought Balmer was better. But Groves also was available in the second round. The thinking is that with improved play along the line, TBC, Parys and Manny will have room to roam. Now will this actually happen? Dunno the answer
Guest275 asks: With how pathetic our o-line was last year. Plus the loss of players along the o-line. How much improvewment do you expect from martz:?
Barrows: He can't go anywhere but up. I am impressed with how ambitious he has been as far as giving players a lot to digest early. I think that's a good sign.
jameschino asks: Do you think J.T. O'Sullivan has a legitimate chance of starting over Alex Smith and Shaun Hill?
Barrows: Yes, i do ... And I'm not just saying that because JT's a Sacto guy. If you look at Martz's track record, he loves the shaggy dog. that is, the guy who wasn't drafted very high (or drafted at all) and had to scratch and claw just to remain in the league. O'Sullivan is exactly that type of player. in fact, martz told me JTO reminds him of Marc Bulger
Guest7783 asks: Do you think Deshaun Foster is going to make a signficant positive impact this season?
Barrows: Indeed. He looked really good in the minicamp. And -- you probably don't want to hear this -- looked better than Gore at times as far as catching the ball out of the backfield. I think the 49ers will be very confident in Foster should Gore (heaven forbid) go down with an injury.
scottptsn asks: Matt, are there any good free agent tackles out there the 49ers could get to solve there lack of depth at the position?
Barrows: Well, apparently the 49ers don't think so, or you'd think they would have already snapped them up. That's gotta be a big worry to them. Of course, if Damane Duckett is as good as they think he can be, maybe they're not worried ...
JD81 asks: Will Reggie Smith start somewhere on defense this year? (CB or FS)
Barrows: Start? probably not unless Walt harris gets injured. I think he's in a three-way fight for the No. 3 cornerback position this year, and probably will compete for the No. 2 CB spot next year.
VA9erfan asks: In your opinion which QB stood out and why?
Barrows: Well, all eyes were on Alex Smith to see whether he was affected by his shoulder surgery. As i wrote the other day, I didn't see much of a difference in how he was throwing the ball. In fact, he had the best arm of any of the three OBs. As far as JTO, it was hard to assess him because he really didn't take part in the team portion of drills. OTAs will be really important as far as determining a pecking order.
Guest7015 asks: Alot has been made about the QB competition, but from what I see, I think it was Alex's job from the start. First, the niners went out and got the one OC that could "fix" Alex. Second, he's obviously the more talented of the bunch. And thirdly, the niners have so much invested in him financially. How could they not make him the starter? There's a reason why Hill 's never been a starter.
Barrows: Like I've been saying, the other two guys have to be dramatically better than Smith to win the job IMO. Tie goes to the guy with the $24 million bonus.
Guest2828 asks: How many receivers will we keep on the roster this year?
Barrows: Dunno for sure, but my guess would be Bruce, Johnson, Battle, Lelie, Hill and Morgan
greywolf447 asks: How much do you think Justin Smith will be standing up this year?
Barrows: Not a lot. When he stood up on Friday, he looked like a 282-pound lineman trying to play linebacker. I think the 49ers will switch it up every now and then to keep defenses on their toes.
ncninerfan asks: Given the complexity of the Martz offense, should we as fans expect the offense to sputter in the first few games until the offense jells?
Barrows: That's a good question. I'll have to go back and check, but i want to say the Lions O looked pretty good out of the chute in 2006. (right?) Like I wrote earlier, Martz is being very ambitious about pouring a lot on his players early. Hopefully, they'll have it all by training camp so they can hit the ground running in September.
D-roc asks: Is T. Spikes still a realistic possibility for our team?
Barrows: I'm pessimistic about Spikes. Would a veteran player accustomed to playing a key role in the defense want to play second fiddle to Willis? And at a position that takes a pounding every snap? I think he may find a better option elsewhere, but who knows? I didn't think Bryant Johnson would win up here, either...
Guest6146 asks: What are the chances of us offering a contract extention to BJ if he performs like we all hope?
Barrows: Very good ... if he performs. But remember, BJ was asking for a dump-truck load of money and didn't get it. he'll be hoping for a big year and the big payday that comes with it. If he excels, he won't come cheap.
gogogoniners asks: I know there's still a LONG time to go, but do you foresee any major trades?
Barrows: No. From a selfish standpoint, I'd love it if they got Jason Taylor because he's so good with the media. But the 49ers won't give up any draft picks.
D-roc asks: Who makes more of an impact in year one? The rookie guard or Balmer?
Barrows: Oooh, that's a tough one. With the injury situation the way it is right now, I'd have to say Rachal ...
Guest7434 asks: Have you heard any more about what why the Niners went with Reggie Smith in round 3 rather than a pass-rushing OLB like Crable, Avril, or Wheeler?
Barrows: Nothing other than the fact that they thought he was a better player. remember, Walt Harris might not be here much longer and no one has really showed he can be the heir apparent. In the pass-happy NFC West, that's a problem.
Guest4720 asks: How much chance do you think there is that Jeff Ulbrich ends up at the starting 'ted' LB spot?
Barrows: Well, the mere fact that he was the starter this weekend shows he has a good shot. But I have to think that the 49ers would prefer it if Dontarrious Thomas wins the role because Ulbrich is so valuable in the sub packages and on special teams. Ulbrich is one of my favorite Niners but he has gotten nicked in recent years. You have to wonder how long he could withstand the pounding at the position.
Guest7319 asks: Read in the blog that the Nebraska free agent linebacker was cut. I also read in an article that Cam Colvin was hurt the first day of practice. Did he practice other days and do you think he might be the next cut? I hope not and I hope the best for this kid.
Barrows: I did not hear about the Colvin injury but that doesn't mean it didn't happen... As for Lance Brandenburgh, I'm not sure why he was cut. He's only 230 pounds and maybe the 49ers didn't feel he was physical enough to make the team. Dunno
Guest3976 asks: Any truth to the rumors that BY wanted to come back if he didn't have to go through training camp, but Nolan said no?
Barrows: No truth. BY never would have asked for special favors.
Guest5328 asks: You've written before about Martz favoring targets in his offense that create "nightmare missmatches" for defensive personel. With Micheal Robinson and Delanie Walker specifically in mind, how do these players fit into that concept and how will they be used?
Barrows: I think the thought of having Walker and Vernon Davis on the field at the same time must have Martz salivating. They didn't do any of that during the minicamp because they were mostly working on their base packages. But I can see Martz shifting those guys around -- from tight-end sets, to H-back, to receiver. Should be fun to watch how he uses his chess pieces. As far as Robinson, I'm curious to find out what his role will be with Foster around.
D-roc asks: Which pick surprised you the most 2 weeks ago and why?
Barrows: Chilo. Because -- as someone already pointed out -- Quentin Groves was still on the board. I'm not knocking Rachal. But it seems like he's being brought in to replace someone from the 2005 draft. That draft was supposed to be the foundation for the rebuilding 49ers. Now it seems like they never stop working on the foundation.
ruthless9er asks: Who was the MVP of the minicamps in the observers opinion?
Barrows: Bryant Johnson looked very good on offense and Justin Smith looked good on defense. Arnaz Battle also looked very quick despite an ankle injury. VD looked as unstoppable as always and Dashon Goldson looked sharp, too. (I was having deja vu from spring 2007)
GUE asks: Mike Nolan's struggles in the locker room last year have been well documented, especially with the "I have the power" running locker room joke. How is the locker room atmosphere different now compared to last year during this time, and have you seen any difference in Nolan's approach to his players from last year thus far?
Barrows: Mmmm, hard to say right now. During minicamp, there are 80-some guys in the locker room, many of them newbies. I won't be able to get a read until September. ... That being said, I am expecting Joe Staley to start taking a big leadership role on the o-line and for Justin Smith to do the same with the D. With Marques Douglas and BY gone, there's a definite void on D.
Need4Speed asks: Who do you think has a more likely chance of hitting the field this year? McDonald or Oliver?
Barrows: McDonald. He's bigger, a better pass rusher and is not coming off an injury.
JD81 asks: Will the 49ers finally have a 1,000 yard wideout this season with Martz calling plays? If so, will it be Bruce?
Barrows: Wow. A 1,000-yard receiver. I forgot what that looks like. If I had to guess, I'd say BJ has a better shot.
Guest1749 asks: Is there ANY chance Larry Allen will return to play this season?
Barrows: Larry Allen is like the yeti. He''s very mysterious and no one knows when he'll show up next. I don't think the 49ers even have a clue. They are proceeding, however, as if he will retire ...
Guest7833 asks: Mike Martz has never been known for using his Tight Ends. Do you expect Vernon Davis to be a significant part of our offense, and could he play the slot as well as being a traditional TE?
Barrows: After this minicamp, Martz has to know that his most dominating pass-catching weapon is Davis. I'm sure Martz is in his lab right now concosting ways of using his new weapon. Davis, by the way, did split out wide at receiver a few times during the minicamp. So did Frank gore. (they did that last year, too)
Guest9184 asks: Point blank: What is the niner's record this year?
Barrows: 7-9, 8-8
EddieS asks: Do you think there's any chance we see Nate Clements returning punts? Or do you think we'll be conservative and go with Rossum, etc?
Barrows: I think it'll be like last year. Someone else will get the job full-time (R. Smith is a possibility, too) and that Clemenst will appear back there every now and then to spice things up.
Falcon49 asks: What would it take for both A. Smith and Nolan to have a "successful" season and keep thier jobs into the 09-10 season?
Barrows: I think there will have to be a clear sense that things are improving. It all depends on one person -- Mike Martz. If he can resurrect the ugly offense from last year, then Nolan will have been proven right. It was just the offense, stupid. (To borrow a phrase from Jim Carville).
AZ9er asks: In 2006-2007, Brandon Moore was clearly our most physical and explosive linebacker. So why is it that he is now buried in the depth chart, when he is clearly the ideal candidate to play the TED position? I understand that Nolan likes his practice players but you can't ignore the game film.
Barrows: The 49ers don't think he is Ted material. remember in 2006, Moore was more of a playmaker. He had a lot of room to roam and made plays when he did. that role, however, now belongs to Patrick Willis. Moore would have to play a supporting role, which calls for him to take on blocks, which he was slow to pick up last season. Which explains why he's now backing up Willis at Mike instead of competing at Ted.
Guest8165 asks: How do you think the defense plans on generating a pass rush this year?
Barrows: Getting back to B.Moore. ... This has been a pattern of his since college. He'll look like the second coming of Dick Butkus one season and then sort of fade away the next. It's hard to explain why ...
SonocoNinerFan: Matt. Thanks for doing this. Back on Feb 2nd in your blog you reported that the power structure for determining the depth charts would be altered so that personnel people hold sway over the position coaches. I think that's great. Is this something you picked up from interviewing McCloughan or in a press conference? I don't remember hearing this anywhere else.
Barrows: Well, that was the theme of the January press conference in which we all learned that Nolan was returning but with his powers diminished. However, I'm not sure McCloughan will actually determine the depth charts. He'll just have more imfluence if, say, a certain rookie receiver is gathering cob webs on the sideline.
D-roc asks: In 2 or 3 years, what player from our draft will we all absolutely love?
Barrows: Reggie Smith. He'll be a starter, a big hitter and everyone will think he was a steal in the third ...
We would like to thank Matt Barrows for taking the time out of his busy schedule to join us for a chat. Matt's informative blog can be found at http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/49ers.