Blogger Q&A: 49ers vs. Panthers

This weeks edition of blogger Q&A features Fooch from Niners Nation. Be sure to check out my answers to Fooch's questions over at NN Friday morning. Without further delay:

Question 1: So how did it feel to get your first win, especially since it came against Raiders? Do you think the team has turned the corner?

Fooch: Getting that first win was huge because until it came I really had no idea when to expect a win. The 49ers had see three of their losses come by a combined 8 points and in those three games they found different ways to kick us all in the collective junk. I felt the 49ers were much better than their 0-5 record would indicate, but at the same time they were still 0-5. Until they won a game, I just assumed they never would win one. I'd imagine Panthers fans have that feeling right now until that first win comes.

Having the win come against the Raiders was a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because getting your first win and having it against your geographic rival (hard to call them "arch" rivals right now) is a beautiful thing. It's a curse because the Raiders are not a particularly good team and the 49ers committed a ton of mistakes. That's a problem because I really can't say with any level of confidence that the 49ers have "turned the corner." If they commit penalties totaling 143 yards against quality opposition, they're probably not gonna win. So, who really knows if they've turned the corner at this point. I hope so, but I really have nothing in reality to base that on.

If only our losses were that close. I'll be happy simply to record a win at this point regardless of how sloppy.

Question 2: Did the hold out of NG Aubrayo Franklin have any adverse affect on the team, the defense or Franklin's play?

Fooch: Coach Singletary definitely thinks it has affected the defense. The last two years Franklin was getting penetration on virtually every play and was playing at a Pro Bowl level. This year it just hasn't quite been there for him and the defense has struggled accordingly. Patrick Willis is on pace for a career low in tackles and much of that can be attributed to the poor defense line play in front of him. Football is the ultimate team game and even an all-world linebacker like Patrick Willis needs help around him.

As the nose tackle, Franklin really is key for both the rush and pass defense. When Franklin opens up holes on the line it allows Willis and Takeo Spikes to get to the running backs before they cross the line of scrimmage. When a center or guard gets the push against Franklin, Willis and Spikes can still make plays but it generally will occur after the running back has passed the line of scrimmage. In the pass defense it's a similar issue of opening up holes for the pass rush from inside.

So there might be hope for the running game this weekend just yet. We need C Ryan Kalil to be on his game.
Question 3: The 49ers selected four guys in the first 91 picks this past draft. Of those four (Davis, Iupati, Mays & Bowman) which pick looks the best so far and which the worst?

Fooch: The 49ers 2010 draft could actually be called wildly successful at this point. Things could change down the road, but in year 1, the 49ers have received some sort of impact from just about every draft pick. From those four you mentioned, if I had to qualify a "worst" thus far it would be Bowman. Davis, Iupati and Mays have all fought their way into the starting lineup, while Bowman is only slowly gaining more playing time. Bowman is a solid tackler and brings athleticism to the position, but he has had some bad misses. That's not to say he's a bad pick, but just in comparison, I would say he's had his struggles.

As for best pick, some folks would say Iupati is the guy, but given expectations I would actually argue that Taylor Mays might be the best thus far. Iupati and Davis were drafted in the first round with the expectation that they would get into the starting lineup fairly early. Both big men were added into the offense line the first week of training camp and haven't looked back. They've both had their struggles in various aspects of the game. Davis has a lot of ups and downs that can frustrate folks, while Iupati is learning what it's like to play against top competition every week (he went to Idaho where competition week in and out wasn't quite like other folks face).

With second round pick Taylor Mays, he was brought in to be one of the safeties of the future and eventually replace Michael Lewis. Up until a few weeks ago he was learning the safety position but really focusing his actual playing time on special teams. However, prior to the Falcons game, Michael Lewis was informed that Mays would be moved into the lineup a bit more frequently at safety. That led to some problems and eventually Lewis was released while Mays became the starting strong safety. I actually thought the only way Lewis would be replaced this year would be because of injury.

Since entering the starting lineup, Mays has really been remarkably solid. He still has a big learning curve and can get messed up in coverage, but he's done a very good job, all things considered.
I think it's safe to say they are happy with the selection of Iupati with the pick they got from the Panthers used to select DE Everette Brown.

Question 4: I was asked this in the Fan Q&A thread so I will turn it around. If the 49ers should end up with a top 5 in the next draft would YOU like them to pick a QB? I assume your answer directly relates to your opinion of Alex Smith.

Fooch: I'd actually say opinions on this issue relate to Smith, Nate Davis and Troy Smith, among other things. If the 49ers end up with a top 5 pick, it will likely be because Alex Smith has struggled the rest of the year. If that's the case, he's a free agent and I'd imagine the 49ers would not attempt to re-sign him. That would leave the team with David Carr, Troy Smith, and Nate Davis.

If the 49ers had a top 5 pick, I'd imagine they'd have a chance at one of the big names at QB (Luck, Locker, etc). If the team went with a top 5 QB, they'd basically have to give up any chance of figuring out Nate Davis given the money that would be invested in the new QB. I'm not saying Nate Davis is the answer to anything, but his natural arm strength is certainly intoxicating. One option given the offensive weapons on this team would be to try and find a more solid veteran option than Carr and see if Nate Davis has gotten his head on straight when it comes to preparing this offseason.

The QB situation is really a mess in San Francisco, and if the team ends up with a top 5 pick it means things have gotten even worse. Or maybe it would be better because the team would feel inclined to invest in a top QB pick again. Honestly, who really knows. The whole situation is just so annoying at this point that any resolution would be welcome.
It would appear the 49ers would have the same draft pick quandary as the Panthers, use the 1st rounder on a QB or hope the young QB on the roster, Davis in their case, can step up and be the starter.

Question 5: Who is your offensive and defensive MVP so far this season?

Fooch: Offensively I'd probably have to go with Frank Gore. He is currently fourth among non-QBs in average total yards from scrimmage per game, trailing only Darren McFadden, Arian Foster, and Adrian Peterson. Part of the reason for that is that Alex Smith had been checking down to Gore quite a bit in the early part of the season. And in looking at the 49ers first win of the season, he was the offensive reason the team got the win. The two touchdowns came on passes but Frank Gore almost literally dragged this team kicking and screaming to victory.

On defense, it's really hard to tell because the defense has been really up and down. I'd nominate one of the following three. Patrick Willis would probably get most votes, although he's really had a quiet year by his standards. He's on pace for 124 tackles, which would easily be a career low, and although he has one sack, his impact plays haven't been nearly as frequent as in years past. A second option would be Justin Smith. He never has the big numbers, but he has a constantly running motor and is always in and around plays as they happen. Throw in a couple sacks and he's been quite solid again this year. A third option would be Travis LaBoy. He is basically in as a pure pass rusher, but his three sacks are tied for the team lead as he's proven that when healthy he's a great pass rusher.
I'm sure either LaBoy or Smith will be excited to face the Panthers first time starter T Garry Williams. I might even call it a key match-up when the Panthers have the ball.

Thanks Fooch for your time and insight!

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