CBSSports.com Senior Writer

49ers draft needs: Tackle glaring problem at quarterback


The Mike Singletary era is over in San Francisco.

It lasted too long -- even at two years.

Singletary was clearly over his head as the coach of the 49ers, which is why he was fired late last season and why the 49ers are drafting so early this year with the seventh overall pick in the first round.

Former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who rejuvenated the Stanford program, takes over. Harbaugh had success at Stanford because he had a great quarterback in Andrew Luck.

He doesn't have that with the 49ers.

Alex Smith, the former first overall pick of the draft, is a free agent and he might not be back. David Carr is said to be on his way out as well. And Troy Smith isn't a player the new coaches are said to like.

So who the heck plays quarterback? They would love to land a veteran, but they can't until the lockout is over. So that leaves the draft. The 49ers could use the seventh pick to take a quarterback, but that's not likely. That means they would hope to get one in the second round, or trade back into the first.

Harbaugh brought in longtime NFL defensive coach Vic Fangio, who ran his Stanford defenses, to coordinate that unit. Fangio is from the Dom Capers school of defense, which means 3-4 with a lot of multiple blitzes.

There seem to be pieces up front for Fangio, but they need a rush linebacker and help at corner if they are truly to play the way the Packers did for Capers in winning a Super Bowl last season.

Five possibilities: 49ers
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: It's unlikely he lasts until the 49ers pick, but you never know.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington: They could hope he's still around in the second round.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: With Nate Clements struggling, he would make a lot of sense. He's a smooth cover player.
Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri: They could use help with their outside pass rush and Smith has the speed to provide it.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: He could be a possibility at the top of the second round.
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No matter what they do on defense, it will all come down to the quarterback.

Who will be the guy on opening day?

QB: Like we said, this is clearly the major problem area. Smith hasn't been the answer and there isn't much behind him. If he comes back, and there is some talk the team would like him back but he might want to leave, he would be the starter. That would mean they would need to get a young player to compete with him. Carr is a veteran who has started, but Harbaugh is believed ready to move on from him. Troy Smith played some last season, but he isn't the long-term answer. They need help here in the worst way. How does a franchise that had Joe Montana and Steve Young allow this spot to be this bad?

RB: Frank Gore remains a top back, but he suffered a broken hip last November. He has a tough time staying healthy. When he's on the field, he is a tough runner who piles up yards. Brian Westbrook played well with the 49ers, but he is a free agent. Anthony Dixon looked good as a rookie at times and might be the backup. He is a strong inside runner. Moran Norris is a bruising lead blocker.

WR: Michael Crabtree is supposed to be the star receiver, but he didn't do much last season. He flashes at times, but is he really worth the high draft pick? Maybe a new quarterback will help. Josh Morgan is a big, physical receiver who can run. But he needs more big plays. Ted Ginn was a big disappointment after coming over from Miami. Maybe all he really can be is a return man. Did they make a mistake releasing Jason Hill? He showed real promise with Jacksonville after being let go.

TE: Vernon Davis is the team's best receiving weapon. He is fast and creates mismatches for linebackers and safeties. It's scary to think what he could be if he had a real quarterback. Delanie Walker is a good pass catcher as well and Nate Byham is a good blocker.

OL: They have talent here, but the unit needs to play better. Injuries once again hurt in 2010. Eric Heitmann, their starting center, missed the season but David Baas played well in his place. Joe Staley, the team's best lineman, also went down at left tackle and Barry Sims had to play. They have young players in 2010 first-round picks Anthony Davis (right tackle) and Mike Iupati (left guard) that they can count on being better in year two. Both started 16 games last season. Right guard Chilo Rachal played decent and Adam Snyder played well when he was in there. The makings of a good unit are here.

DL: End Justin Smith is their best defensive player. He plays the run well and he also had 8½ sacks from a down end spot. The guy plays hard all the time. Aubrayo Franklin, who could be a free agent, was good on the nose. He is a space-eater. Ricky Jean-Francois did a nice job backing him up. He might push for more time this season. Ray McDonald, who is a restricted free agent, played well as a backup to Isaac Sopoaga, who is little more than an occupier as the starter. McDonald would seem to have more upside. They could use an end in their 3-4 scheme.

LB: Patrick Willis is one of the best inside linebackers in the league. He racks up a lot of tackles with his speed and instincts. He can also cover the pass, although he tailed off some in that area last season. Veteran Takeo Spikes played well opposite him last season, giving the 49ers a nice 1-2 punch. Outside linebacker Manny Lawson could be a free agent and is likely gone. Lawson could be a big part of the new scheme if he were to stay. He has the ability to be a force off the edge, although he hasn't lived up to the hype. He does have speed. Parys Haralson is a decent player on the other side and Ahmad Brooks offered some backup pass-rush ability and could be a starter.

DB: The 49ers paid Nate Clements a ton of money to be a top-tier corner. He hasn't been that. He has been OK, but he needs to be more for what they pay him. He is a good run-support corner, but he doesn't offer the coverage skills of a man making his money. Shawntae Spencer really struggled on the other side last season. Teams picked on him all year. He did play well in 2009, so it might be an aberration. Nickel corner Tarell Brown struggled. Dashon Goldson is decent at free safety, but he might be better suited to playing strong safety. He isn't great in coverage and didn't play well in 2010. The 49ers drafted Taylor Mays with the idea he would be a starter and he opened in that spot, but lost his job to Reggie Smith, a converted corner who plays with more range.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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