Spencer starting

The 49ers flip-flopped on their decision to start rookie Shawntae Spencer at right cornerback last week, but that won't be the case Sunday when the team takes a northern sojourn in Seattle. Spencer will make his first NFL start against the Seahawks after proving last week against New Orleans that the Niners should have stuck with their original plan to begin with.

Spencer shared time with Jimmy Williams on the right corner last week in place of injured regular Mike Rumph, but the 49ers were better with Spencer at the position. That's all it took to convince the Niners to go with their second-round draft pick from the start this time around.

"The game's not too big for him," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. "Part of the reason we didn't start him last game was to let him get a feel for the game, and he came in and played well and got better as time went on in that game. Probably more than anything, he learned from last week."

The 49ers learned, too. And what they learned is that Spencer, even at this early stage of his career, is a more effective cover man on the corner than fourth-year veteran Williams, who struggled against the Saints.

During a four-minute span of the first quarter in that game, Williams was burned by Donte Stallworth for a 45-yard reception and also was penalized for pass interference on Joe Horn that cost the Niners another 40 yards. The two early breakdowns led to 10 New Orleans points.

Williams settled down after that, but perhaps Spencer could have done a better job from the start. He'll get the opportunity to do so this week.

"We just felt for that football game that Jimmy was the best (option to start)," said Erickson, who originally announced at this time last week that Spencer would start against the Saints, only to change his mind before the game. "We went back and forth on it, obviously, but we decided that was the direction we were going to go in. I do have the right to change this other thing, too."

But Erickson won't be changing his mind this week.

"(Spencer) does some good things out there," Erickson said. "He's very competitive, he covers very well, has good feet and plays the run real well. The only thing he lacks is experience. So we've got to start giving him more experience as time goes on. He's getting better all the time, and it's just a little easier for us to bring Jimmy in (off the bench) than Shawntae."

Spencer says he doesn't pay much attention to the decision-making process of coaches during the week, preferring instead to prepare like he'll be a starter no matter what the circumstances might dictate.

Either way, he knows he'll be seeing a lot of playing time. That was the case all summer – when Spencer shined during training camp and the preseason as one of San Francisco's top rookies – and it has been the case ever since Rumph went down with a pulled groin in the first quarter of the Sept. 12 season opener against Atlanta.

But there was a trace of excitement in Spencer's voice Thursday afternoon when a few writers informed him that he'll be starting against Seattle. It was the first Spencer had heard of the news.

"It's always good when you find out that you're going to (start)," Spencer said. "I'm happy it came this week. You have to get in there to learn. That's the only way you can really learn as a rookie. Once you get out there, it's live bullets. I feel as of now I'm prepared. I have a couple of days to prepare even more. I have to make the best of this opportunity."

Spencer has done a lot of that since joining the 49ers, though he often has downplayed the high praise he has received from teammates and coaches.

There's a reason for that. The kid has only just begun to figure out what it takes to play corner in the NFL. And he's a long way away from being the best cornerback he can be.

"I'm never satisfied," Spencer said. "I'm not the best corner in this league, so why should I be satisfied? People can say what they say, that's OK. I know myself that I have a lot to improve on. I'm never satisfied. I want to be great. I don't want to be just good."

The Niners easily will settle for good, and they'll be happy to wait for great.

"I'm doing everything the best that I can to prepare myself for this game," Spencer said. "On the same note, I don't know everything yet. But it's not a confidence issue. I have a lot of confidence. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."

He wouldn't be starting in the third game of his rookie season, either.


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