This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jason Hill the main man in charge over at The Pewter Plank for some expert insight into the 49ers Week 5 opponnet the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Check out my answers at The Pewter Plank
Key: NN: Niner Noise, JH: Jason Hill
NN: How do you view Josh Freeman’s development at this point in his career?
JH: Freeman is really coming along nicely from when he was originally drafted. Last season was really great but I wanted Free to build on it and I knew he wasn’t a top level guy yet. He still isn’t that top level guy but he’s advanced a lot quicker than I thought he would. I mean nine come-from-behind wins in just two seasons as a starter? That’s pretty impressive. The way he uses his weapons is really incredible as well. I compare his use of targets to that of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in that they don’t have more than one real homerun threat. Brady utilizes the freaking Tight End like he’s Randy Moss and Rodgers takes guys like James Jones and Jordy Nelson like true No. 1’s. Freeman only has Mike Williams as a big time guy, after that he uses smaller time guys like Preston Parker, Sammie Stroughter and even Earnest Graham (all guys no one outside Tampa really knows) and makes them real threats. To see that in a second year starter and the fact he just reeks of swagger in high pressure situations is something that has really excited Tampa and it’s really comforting to know we finally have our franchise quarterback.
NN: Safety Ronde Barber’s been playing some Linebacker this season. How has he looked and it what formations can we look for him there on Sunday?
JH: Barber is a guy that has been around forever and has always been the backbone of the franchise in terms of character for a while now. He’s also a guy who is not afraid to do anything and everything for this franchise he as given so much sweat and blood to, so it wasn’t surprising to see him shift to linebacker in some packages. Raheem Morris is a crafty guy and he’s got a lot of creative ways to attack you. I can’t say specifically what packages Barber will be moving around, but I can tell you why he has moved there. During Barber’s tenure in Tampa, the defense has been a Tampa 2, Cover 2 type of pass defense. That is a thing of the past now and one of the major things Morris has phased out. Tampa 2 was a system Barber thrived in and now that the Bucs have switched to a more man coverage heavy pass defense, a lot of people saw this as a phasing out of Barber. Not the case. Barber is actually having a lot of fun working with a man coverage style of play and a lot of that is how much a chameleon he can be on this defense.
NN: Backup QB Josh Johnson has been linked to the 49ers due to his connections to coach Harbaugh. Based on what you’ve seen of him do you feel he can be a starting QB in the NFL?
JH: Johnson has been a real asset to the Bucs especially since Morris likes calling some crazy packages on both sides of the ball. Johnson has been used largely in Wildcat-esque formations but he does have the ability to throw the ball which adds a level of danger to having on the field. But in terms of Johnson being a starter, I don’t see him developing into a real reliable one. People assume because he’s coming out of the same system Josh Freeman is in and because he’s basically an understudy to Freeman he will be able replicate his performance but Free is a freak. Johnson doesn’t have the same football build Freeman has so anyone who buys on him is going to have to build him up the same you would with any other young quarterback. The Niner’s already have Colin Kaepernick and taking on Johnson would add the same type of quarterback to that roster. Johnson is going to be a guy who can be a backup (and be a damn good backup at that) and a trick play specialist, but he won’t ever be the type of starter people assume he can be coming out of Tampa. If Tampa has Josh Johnson as a quarterback and not Josh Freeman, then they don’t have the success they have had.
NN: Who should 49ers fans be worried most about on both sides of the ball?
JH: I’d say watch out for Josh Freeman on offense. He’s the captain of the ship and he’s really good at what he does. What makes him most dangerous is he hasn’t lit anyone up with his arm yet. His highest passing total is under 300 yards, yet he always finds a way to beat you with his mind. He’s a football genius and he’s only getting smarter. In Minnesota, he led a 24 point second half by throwing one touchdown. Against Atlanta, he ended the game by drawing the Falcons offsides on 4th and 1 and against the Colts he just out-smarted the entire staff. A quarterback who is able to be a top guy and not have top stats is a scary thing because once he says Tampa can win, his guys believe him and that’s tough to beat.
JH: On defense, I’d say watch out for the D-Line. They’re growing and it’s basically the same unit that threw a no-hitter against San Fran last year. The only real difference is the addition of Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn and that only adds to the depth and danger of the front line. Especially watch out this week because you have to believe they’re foaming at mouth to get a shot at an offensive line that allowed 5 sacks to the Bengals and 14 sacks in 4 weeks. The secondary is dangerous for the Bucs but the D-Line will be looking to gobble up and swallow Frank Gore and Alex Smith.
NN: Who are your young sleepers 49er fans may not have heard of yet to watch out for on Sunday?
JH: A lot of the guys are on the D-Line that I just mentioned. Everyone sort of knows Gerlad McCoy if only because he was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft in 2010. But after him, if you’re not a Bucs fan you have no clue who is on the line and it gives the illusion of it being weak. Don’t fall into that trap. Guys like Michael Bennett (who had a big week last week), Frank Okam and Brian Price are guys who really get after you and rookies Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn have caught a wiff of this passion and have tapped into it. The D-Line is stacked with underrated talent.
JH: Offensively there is a guy who people are starting to pay attention to but is a guy that Tampa really wanted to develop into the player he is becoming and that guy is Preston Parker. Pre-Sammie Stroughter injury Parker was just a backup and a special teams returner. But when he was asked to step up and fill in Stroughter’s shoes he bloomed into a top flight slot receiver. I’ve heard Parker compared to Percy Harvin and once you analyze the comparison it makes sense. Both guys can burn you across the field or if they get loose deep but where Parker elevates above Harvin is how he uses his talent. Harvin (and this may be used to him being underused), really is only used as a deep threat but Parker moves the ball by taking short yardage receptions and taking off from there. He’s a big part of moving the ball and extending drives during comebacks. Watch out for him not only next week but all season. I’ll make a bold prediction here, but Preston Parker WILL be a Pro Bowler this year for the NFC in some form.
Don’t forget to check out my answers to Jason’s questions over at The Pewter Plank
Here’s a quick preview:
TPP: There is no denying that what San Fran has been lacking in offense they have more than made up for in defense. But are they ever going to be able to shine on an elite level or will they go down in history as a defense that was never able to blossom due to a faulty offense? What effect has the poor offense holding back the strong defense had on Patrick Willis?
MH: You nailed it right on the head here, the defense up until this point hasn’t been able to garner the credit they deserve due to the offense. Over the past few seasons the defense was on the field way too much and had no chance to pull the team out of some of the games we lost. While the front 7 is elite, and the defensive backfield is improving we still have some work to do in pass coverage. The thing the defense and this team has going for them is aside from a few veterans they are a young team, I believe the 49ers are close to putting it all together so to answer your question the defense will be known as an elite unit soon enough.
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