NinersDigest Q&A: Ending images of Singletary

What were the final images and impressions of Mike Singletary's tenure as 49ers coach? How badly does the team want to re-sign safety Dashon Goldson, and what's the possibility CB Nate Clements will be released? Will TE Delanie Walker have an increased role this season? Can upstart Alex Boone unseat vet Barry Sims as the team's No. 3 tackle? answers your questions and more inside.

Q: Do you see Delanie Walker having an increased role this season?
--- Jackmaul

Craig Massei: I'm hesitant to say he'll have an increased role, because a more accurate response is to say he'll have a different role. That could ultimately mean an increased role for the talented veteran, because the team's new offensive chiefs will find ways to get Walker the ball in their version of the West Coast offense, which is very fullback/tight end friendly in the passing game. Since Walker can best be described as a tight end and/or H-back, he could become a more prominent figure in the team's aerial attack. Last season, when he was fifth on the team with 29 receptions while setting career highs for both catches and receiving yards (331), Walker had a significant role because he not only was a solid receiving backup tight end for star regular Vernon Davis, but he probably was the team's No. 4 receiving threat behind Davis and starting wideouts Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan. Ted Ginn never really became the No. 3 wide receiver the 49ers expected last season, so Walker in essence filled the void as the No. 3 target on the edge, as he was often either split off the line or used in some kind of tight slot/H-back formation. The new offensive regime will find other ways to use him, but Walker still figures to be one of the primary targets in San Francisco's 2011 passing game.

Q: What are your last impressions of Mike Singletary's tenure as head coach?
--- Jackmaul

CM: It was considerably sad to see such a great man come crashing down to such a humiliating end in his first try – and, as a result, perhaps his only try – as a NFL head coach. Singletary was almost a tragic figure through the final month-and-a-half of the season as the team's playoff goal was still in reach and he could do nothing to lift the Niners to grab it despite all the opportunities they had in a historically bad NFC West division. Singletary is unquestionably a true leader of men, but in the final analysis, he was overmatched as a NFL head coach. His problem, as was exposed throughout last season, is that he's a much better leader than he is a coach. And NFL head coaches have to know how to coach. Just as importantly, they have to be able to "coach-up" their own assistant coaches. Since most NFL head coaches gather that knowledge and experience climbing the assistant-coordinator ladder, Singletary – who didn't follow that path to the 49ers' top job, and had never been a head coach before at any level – was clueless how to do that when things got difficult during San Francisco's 0-5 start and the whole assistant staff and team below Singletary needed him to take charge and give them direction. Singletary really looked like he had what it takes during his half-season audition in 2008 after Mike Nolan was fired, and then his promising showing during San Francisco's near-miss 8-8 season in 2009. But when the chips were down last season, and all the expectations of a winning season, NFC West title and playoff berth were heavy on his shoulders, Singletary simply couldn't handle the load. And it was simply because he didn't know how, having never been there before. That happens to a lot of NFL head coaches when they get to that critical point, so it's not exactly failure, it's more like not succeeding. But it got so bad for Singletary at the end that it was more like failure. His decision to go with Troy Smith at quarterback instead of Alex Smith in the crucial Week 16 game at St. Louis was horrible, and that proved to be the last consequential decision he would make as 49ers coach. It was the wrong one, of course, and he was unceremoniously jettisoned by team president Jed York before the day of that game – a loss that eliminated the 49ers from playoff contention – was over. For most of Singletary's tenure, I thought he was the right head coach to lead the 49ers to where they need to go. But as it all began to unravel last year after a perfect 4-0 preseason, it became clearly evident that he's not.

Q: Dashon Goldson is hurt a lot. Is there an organizational desire to re-sign him?
--- Ninerdomination

CM: Without question, but not for nearly the price the 49ers would have considered had Goldson followed up his promising 2009 season with another strong showing in 2010. That didn't happen as Goldson wasn't nearly the same play-maker he was during his breakout season of the year before. Part of that had to do with a series of nagging injuries, but Goldson still played through the pain and started all 16 games for the second consecutive season while finishing fourth on the team with 102 tackles. Despite the dip in his performance from the previous year, Goldson still clearly was the Niners' best safety and arguably the team's best defensive back in a poor season for San Francisco's secondary. Goldson is a player new 49ers GM Trent Baalke wants to retain, and – since the team certainly doesn't want to lose its best defensive back – San Francisco is willing to go to some lengths to retain him. Before the NFL lockout, Goldson was headed toward unrestricted free agency this year, but the 49ers are now hoping the rules of free agency once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached will make Goldson a restricted free agent. In that scenario, the Niners would eagerly retain him with a one-year tender. The Goldson camp was putting out feelers last year that he was looking for a deal in line with the ridiculous five-year, $37 million contract that Antrel Rolle signed last season with the New York Giants. Goldson clearly didn't play up to that kind of deal last season, and he clearly won't get it now from the 49ers if he indeed becomes unrestricted after the lockout. But the Niners will fight to keep him, and there's a good chance they will.

Q: How is Alex Boone coming along? I had high hopes for him at one point, but I'd be happy if he can manage to unseat Barry Sims.
--- NinerNation7, Skidoo8, Ninerdomination

CM: Perhaps by now you've all heard the story of how Boone, after being an undisciplined and reckless party boy coming out of Ohio State – where he failed to live up to his vast potential because of off-the-field issues – got his act together and transformed his body into shape during the 2010 offseason. Well, it's all true, and that did a lot to expedite his development last season. So did his focus, as the light went on and Boone seemed to understand the kind of commitment and hard work it takes to make it at the NFL level. Boone finally made his NFL debut during last year's season finale against Arizona, a notable step in his development after he clearly showed progress during the course of the season. The 49ers like this guy, and he has a legitimate chance to unseat Sims as San Francisco's No. 3 tackle this year if he can continue to take gradual steps to the next level.

Q: Is it possible that the team may release Nate Clements and goes young at the (cornerback) position if they don't bring in a CB via FA or trade?
--- drama

CM: It's entirely possible, and it practicably becomes probable if Clements doesn't accept a massive pay cut from the approximately $15 million salary he's scheduled to receive this season as part of the monster eight-year, $80 million deal he signed as a free agent in 2007. The 49ers apparently didn't ask Clements to restructure the remaining years of that deal before the lockout, but that conversation is definitely coming once the lockout is over. Clements was an elite-level cornerback when he came to the 49ers, but he no longer belongs in that category as his coverage skills have eroded over the past two seasons. Clements still has value to the 49ers – particularly with their weaknesses in the secondary – so they will try to work something out, and it's unlikely Clements will find more money elsewhere than what the 49ers still will be willing to pay him. Clements, a 31-year-old veteran entering his 11th NFL season, still is due almost $50 million from a back-loaded contract that ties him to the team through the 2014 season, and that is money he surely will never see. When asked last month if Clements would still be a 49er by the time the 2011 season begins, GM Trent Baalke responded, "I don't know, you have to ask Nate. Honestly, I can't tell you right now." That seems to indicate the 49ers will ask him back at the right price. If the ball is indeed now in Clements' court and he doesn't swing at it, then the 49ers will surely look to bring in a veteran free agent at cornerback (they may still do that even if Clements stays), and they also have high hopes for third-round draft pick Chris Culliver, though it wouldn't be wise for the Niners to enter this season expecting Culliver to contribute as one of their front-line cornerbacks. publisher Craig Massei will answer your questions regularly throughout the year. Send along your questions to the site moderators on the 49ers Hardcore forum message board, and they will select the questions that will be answered by Craig.

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