pictured: linebacker Derek Smith
At a press conference in March of this year, 49ers head coach Dick Nolan sneered that if he focused just on acquiring players of good character, he would "end up with a lily-white team that doesn't beat anybody." Although he managed the impressive feat of putting down both blacks and whites in one sentence, Nolan's remark did not stir up any media controversy, most likely because he is clearly not interested in coaching anything close to a "lily white team," especially on defense.
When San Francisco selected black LB Patrick Willis in the first round it was widely speculated that Willis would start as a rookie, knocking veteran MLB Derek Smith to the bench. However Smith, coming back from an eye problem that greatly reduced his efficiency in 2006, has kept his starting job, while the team's other veteran starting white linebacker, Jeff Ulbrich, ended up being benched in favor of Willis. Smith has been a very under-rated MLB who recorded over 100 tackles almost every season until last year. However at 32 he is on the backside of his excellent career.
Smith and Ulbrich are the only two white defensive players on the 49ers roster, meaning the team is not only close to having an all-black starting defense, but possibly not a single white reserve within a season or two.
On offense, Alex Smith, the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, improved significantly in 2006 with better coaching and better players around him, and may be poised to become an upper tier QB in '07 as Smith has the size, athleticism, arm strength and intelligence to be one of the best.
Rookie Joe Staley appears to have beaten out veteran Kwame Harris for the starting job at right tackle, giving the 49ers three white starters on the offensive line. Eric Heitmann is the center, with Justin Smiley starting at right guard.
Backup white o-linemen are Patrick Estes (a converted TE), Adam Snyder, Tony Wragge, and David Baas,the first player taken in the second round in the '05 Draft. Billy Bajema is one of the backup tight ends.
Veteran Trent Dilfer backs up Alex Smith, with Shaun Hill the third QB.
Zak Keasey is the backup fullback.
NUMBER OF WHITE STARTERS: 5
APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF WHITE PLAYERS ON 53 MAN ROSTER: 17