Positional Analysis Safeties
January 25 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
One of the key 49ers free agents this off-season is safety Lance Schulters. Schulters has been a starting safety for the 49ers since Merton Hanks was released and has played at a high level at both the free and strong positions. His return to the 49ers this coming season is an essential part of the 49ers defensive success of the future.
After the final game of the season, Schulters expressed his desire to return to the 49ers - something that seemed to contradict his feelings of the previous off-season. The 49ers had to breathe a sigh of relief. Schulters is a strong hold in the 49ers defensive backfield, and the only safety currently on the roster that has ever had a trip to the Pro Bowl. His chemistry with the rest of the defense also adds to overall efficiency of the team. His return is simply essential.
Zack Bronson was not slated in as a 49ers starting safety this season, but when John Keith went down with injury, the 49ers slid Schulters over to the strong position and gave center field to Bronson. Bronson is the most veteran player in the defensive backfield, and proved his worth with a career high seven interceptions (tying Ahmed Plummer for the team lead) this past season. Bronson always seemed to be making plays this off-season. He and Schulters were a dynamic duo this past season, and the two are likely looking forward to playing alongside each other next season.
John Keith is a highly skilled backup and special teams player. Keith was recently placed on the expansion list, and thus may not be returning to the team next season. Losing Keith would be the loss of a great talent, but his injuries over the past two seasons leave the 49ers in a very tough situation. Should Keith not return next season, the 49ers would need to find a replacement from somewhere.
Ronnie Heart is the final safety on the 49ers roster. Heard did not see any real play time this past season but he did excel on special teams. Last season Heard also proved he could step in and play when the rest of the 49ers safeties were plagued with injuries. Heard looks like a player the 49ers would be interesting in developing, and there’s little reason to believe his roster spot would be in jeopardy this coming season.
The 49ers are in very good shape at the safety position. It is essential though that the team re-signs Lance Schulters. The potential loss of Keith would hurt, but being a second string player, the 49ers could find a replacement. The defensive backfield grew tremendously last season, and that growth was due in large part to the talent at the safety position. It should remain a strong part of the team heading into next season.