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Arizona Cardinals vs San Francisco 49ers: Q&A With Niners Nation

The Arizona Cardinals are a couple of days away from facing the San Francisco 49ers to open the season and what better way to get an inside look at the 49ers than to ask Fooch of Niners You can also check out my Q&A with Fooch right here.

ROTB: Even though I'm sure that you're tired of talking about this guy and answering this question, what's the status of Micheal Crabtree? Is there any end in sight or is it actually possible that he'll sit out the entire season?

Fooch: Crabtree remains on the shelf unsigned (not exactly shocking news). The signals coming from Team Crabtree (which seems to be growing by the day) are a bit mixed at times. Deion Sanders (former Eugene Parker client) and Eric Davis (not sure his connection) have indicated Crabtree is very willing to sit out the season. He's made enough money from endorsements that he's fine financially and can get by without game checks.

At the same time, he's been working out with Trent Dilfer and he supposedly was living in the Bay Area. The Dilfer thing isn't big as any player would want to remain fresh, especially if he was not gonna see the field until the 2010 season. However, living in the Bay Area (if true) would indicate he might sign before the week 10 deadline (when he can no longer play this year).

The next major time frame is this weekend. A lot of folks think he'll sign by the first game, so we'll know where that stands in a few days. If he doesn't sign by then, I don't see any reason he'd sign until close to the week 10 deadline. It's a philosophical difference and I just don't see anything changing anytime soon. If a deal is done, somebody has to lose face given that the 49ers have said they don't want to meet him halfway. The 49ers have offered slot 10 money and don't want to go above Raji's contract. So really I don't know anything!

ROTB: I'm sure the story line that should have gotten the most attention in the Bay area was the battle for the starting QB spot if not for Mr. Crabtree but what are your thoughts on how it turned out? Was it ever really a battle and did the right guy win?

Fooch: I think the right guy won at this point. Shaun Hill was the so-called "reigning champion" at the position due to his finish last season, and as they say, you have to take the title from the champ. The competition started strong, but sort of petered out midway through the preseason. It ended up sort of being tie goes to Hill. While that is not exactly wildly inspiring, Hill is the man for now. He's never played more than 8 games in a season so it will be interesting to see how long it takes for scouting reports to catch up with him.

Alex Smith is the more athletic of the two, but Hill has consistently been solid. It's hard to say Hill was clearly the man for the job because of the level of competition in many of his starts (which man folks at NN will tell you). However, he was presented with opportunities and took advantage of those opportunities.

The real story of the preseason (not sure if this is good or bad for the short term) was QB Nate Davis. He was facing second, third and fourth stringers, but he showed some very solid skills. At one point there were thoughts he might end up on the practice squad, but he played through that quite ably. The 49ers have been looking for a long term answer at QB for most of the decade, and they might actually have one...or at least potential.

ROTB: I read that the Niners' new OC stated that they're goal to run the ball close to 60% of the time and with a stable of young backs led by Gore and some questions marks at QB, who could blame him. Do you think the 49ers running game is that strong that they can line up and just pound away at opposing defenses and can that type of offense even be successful over the course of a full season?

Fooch: Naturally I believe the 49ers have an pair of extremely talented running back in Frank Gore. In Glen Coffee I see a guy with clear talent who will make a solid backup option to Gore. Will that translate into an obscene amount of rushing attempts and yards? A lot of that will depend on the offensive line and certain aspects of the passing game.

Gore's career year (2006) came during a season in which the 49ers offensive line played out of its mind. If the o-line can bounce back from a couple of down years, I think the rushing game will benefit big time. Combine that with even a mildly competent passing game and it could make for a very solid rushing attack. The 49ers passing game doesn't need to be spectacular, but it has to remain at least a viable threat to keep defenses honest. Gore and Coffee will get their numbers, but a solid offensive line and moderately decent passing attack will allow for that 60% rushing # and the yards to follow.

ROTB: Even though the Niners' are taking an oath never to pass the ball, I've gotta ask a question about the receiving corps. With the players that are currently on the roster, who do you think will be the leading receiver by season's end? Also, will this be the year that Vernon Davis finally puts it together?

Fooch: If the 49ers do decide to throw the ball (I'm not holding my breath!), I think the leading receiver could very well be Isaac Bruce again. It depends in large part on what stats we're talking about. I think the most receptions will be Bruce because he has been a great security blanket. If we're talking yards, I think Josh Morgan will be that guy getting a lot of the deeper balls thrown his way. Touchdowns could also be Morgan, but Bruce seems a safe bet as that "security blanket," while Davis could be a solid red zone threat. Arnaz Battle is another receiver who could quietly load up on catches this season if he stays healthy.

As for Davis, I think he could put together a very solid season. People forget that in his sophomore campaign he finished 4th among NFC tight ends in most receiving categories. If he stays healthy and isn't held back to block all the time, I think he puts up very good numbers this season. Maybe not 80-100 catches, but I could see him getting 50+ catches, a lot of red zone TDs and some good yardage numbers (particularly YAC).

ROTB: The Niners' defense was pretty middle of the road last season (13th overall, 20th against the pass and 13th against the run). Outside of Patrick Willis, who's an obvious beast, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the Niners' defense? Who will be the primary pass rushers and what do you expect from them?

Fooch: Primary pass rushers? Well I'm waiting for the call given the preseason struggles of the pass rush unit. Ok, seriously, I think Parys Haralson once again leads the team in sacks. Manny Lawson will get more sacks than last season just because of the fact that he'll be on the field in more pass rush situations, actually attempting to rush the passer (novel concept I know). The pass rush is definitely considered a weakness by most. In the 49ers 3-4, the defensive ends do the grunt work of opening holes for the outside linebackers to then attack the passer. So the big question is whether Isaac Sopoaga and/or Kentwan Balmer can open holes opposite Justin Smith.

The team's strength will likely be against the run. Willis and Takeo Spikes are monsters in the middle. Aubrayo Franklin showed some improvement in a simplified offense, and the cornerbacks have proven to be solid open-field tacklers. The pass defense is a much bigger question mark. The lack of a consistent pass rush definitely doesn't help matters. Even the best corners need help from the pass rush. Nate Clements struggled a lot in the preseason and the 49ers surprised a lot of people by declaring Shawntae Spencer the #2 starter. In spite of the loss of Walt Harris in the offseason (ACL), the team's depth is actually decent. Dre Bly and Tarell Brown are behind Spencer and Clements and will provide solid help when the Cardinals are throwing to 3 and 4 wide receivers. However, it all comes down to the pass rush.

ROTB: For the final question we'll steal one from you, who are some young breakout candidates for the Niners this year?

Fooch: The 49ers have a lot of interesting young players to keep an eye on. On defense, Dashon Goldson took over the starting free safety position. If he can stay healthy (a big IF in the past), Goldson could be the ballhawking, center-field type of FS the 49ers haven't had in years. He's a ballhawk in practice, but he's struggled to stay in the lineup, even before being named a starter.

Also on defense is Tarell Brown. Brown slipped due to an off-field incident in college but has the potential to be a long-time starter in this league. He was slotted in as the #2 CB but a toe injury kept him out of a big chunk of training camp. I think at some point this season folks will see him in the starting lineup (and not as a nickel back).

On offense, RB Glen Coffee will see a lot of carries as an alternative to Frank Gore. The team is planning to run the ball...A LOT. They want to keep Gore fresh and Coffee has been given that opportunity. Coffee finished tied for first in rushing yards this preseason. Of course, part of that is due to playing a hideous Raiders rush defense, but still, he's looking sharp.

Also keep an eye on 2008 6th round pick WR Josh Morgan. He was projected to be a starter last season before a staph infection knocked him out week 3 of the preseason. He struggled with injuries but when healthy showed some serious skills. He's starting opposite Isaac Bruce and looks to be a legit deep threat for the 49ers.


So what do you think of the Cardinals vs. Niners matchup?