Entering the 2012 season, we have been conducting position breakdowns of the 49ers roster at SB Nation Bay Area. In this update, we discuss the San Francisco's new and improved safety position. The 49ers have struggled to situate that position for some time, suffering through years of mediocrity but after last year's performance, it looks to be a thing of the past.
The starting safety tandem for the 49ers looks to be one of the best in the league. If they can produce again in 2012 and show they can be consistent, there is no telling what they can do.
Dashon Goldson, FS: The starting free safety for the 49ers was a Pro Bowler in 2011, looking to improve in his second year in Vic Fangio's defense. Unless something gets done, Goldson will be playing under the team's franchise tag in 2012 -- he still hasn't reported to OTA's. In 2011, Goldson tied teammate Carlos Rogers with a team-high 6 interceptions; Goldson even had a pick in the NFC Divisional Playoff game against Drew Brees.
Donte Whitner, SS: Whitner proved to be one of the gems from the Niners' free agent acquisitions last year. The safety joined the Niners after spending the first part of his career in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills. Whitner is a tone-setter and punishing hitter from the strong safety position. He is dependable in pass coverage and even better in run support. Whitner has great instincts when playing the run, deceptively finding his way from the secondary to the line of scrimmage within seconds.
Goldson and Whitner both bring well-rounded, complete games to the table -- both equally as good against the pass as they are the run. They've also laid an intangible foundation for the coming years, in that they've established a strong physical presence. The league's receiver's are aware of the hard-hitting pair that lurks 20-yards away and will now think twice when going across the middle or challenging them deep.
But the truth is, either safety can come up and hit a receiver from anywhere on the field, and with a tremendous amount of force. They are as fast as cornerbacks and hit like linebackers.
The backups still on the 49ers roster as OTA's progress are Colin Jones, C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson, Mark LeGree and Michael Thomas. Jones and Spillman will be in their second year with the Niners and have been absolute studs on the San Francisco's special teams coverage unit. Meanwhile, Robinson (Michigan State), LeGree (Appalachian State) and Thomas (Stanford) are all rookies; Robinson being the only player the 49ers spent a draft pick on.
Goldson and Whitner will be the starters in 2012 but the position needs depth. While Jones and Spillman have already started paying their dues on special teams, Trenton Robinson could emerge as a talented late rounder. Thomas from Stanford University could also turn out to be a good player; being a smart athlete that had once played for coach Harbaugh. The battle in camp at the safety position will be for Goldson and Whitner's back ups, but it should be competitive nonetheless.