Niners give defense a spike with Takeo Spikes

The 49ers added another dynamic defender to their roster early Sunday evening when they signed linebacker Takeo Spikes to a one-year deal. The two-time All-Pro figures to settle in next to Patrick Willis in the middle of San Francisco's 3-4 defense, forming a nucleus that could give the Niners the strongest set of starting inside linebackers in the league.

The 49ers have been courting Spikes since free agency began in March. He apparently was looking for a better offer at the time, but remained available into the summer while looking for a starting situation with several suitors. He apparently found that Sunday, passing a physical and signing with the Niners after the team released linebacker Brandon Moore earlier in the day.

Moore had been the top backup to Jeff Ulbrich at the strong-side "Ted" inside linebacker position, but Ulbrich apparently will give way to Spikes as the starter. It's a good move for the 49ers, as they add another top veteran in Spikes and Ulbrich now can become the top backup at both inside positions, continue his specific roles in defensive sub-packages and resume his role as a top producer on San Francisco's special teams.

While 2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Patrick Willis is now considered the heart of San Francisco's defense after leading the NFL in tackles last season, Spikes doesn't take a backseat to anyone. An All-Pro and Pro Bowler in both 2003 and 2004 with the Buffalo Bills, Spikes had 139 tackles and one sack in 14 starts last year with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Spikes, 31, was the 13th player selected overall in the 1998 NFL draft by Cincinnati. He immediately stepped into the Bengals' starting lineup, starting each of the 79 games in which he played during five seasons with the team.

Spikes has been one of the league's most productive linebackers over the past decade. The 6-foot-2, 242-pounder has started 139 of the 140 games in which he has played and has career totals of 1,177 tackles, 22.5 sacks, 15 fumble recoveries, 12 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and 48 passes defensed.

In other words, he's a playmaker. Two other key parts of the San Francisco defense – cornerback Nate Clements and defensive end Justin Smith – played with Spikes earlier in their careers (Clements in Buffalo and Smith in Cincinnati) and both told writers Monday that Spikes will only add to and accentuate what the 49ers already have going on defensively.

"As far as football goes, he's just a leader," Smith said. "He's got that quality about him. He knows his stuff. He pays attention to his film study. He's prepared. He's the type of guy you need on a defense. That's a plus. It's going to be one of the strongest linebacking corps in the middle with him and Patrick."

Said Clements: "He's a great addition. He brings leadership, playmaking ability and experience to the table, and I'm excited to have him here."

The excitement will be felt throughout the San Francisco defense, which now has a fifth Pro Bowler to go along with the other parts the team has assembled on that side of the ball.

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