Team gets Spikes to complement Willis
Moore released to make room for two-time Pro Bowl linebacker
By MATT MAIOCCO
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SANTA CLARA – Nobody in the 49ers’ front office or coaching staff ever asked defensive lineman Justin Smith for input on free-agent linebacker Takeo Spikes. As it turns out, his recommendation was not needed.
“I think his resume speaks for itself,” Smith said.
The 49ers signed Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, to a one-year contract on the same day the club parted ways with six-year professional Brandon Moore. Spikes is expected to supply an immediate upgrade to the middle of the 49ers’ defense.
Smith gave Spikes a resounding endorsement when asked about his former teammate. They spent two seasons together with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2001 and ’02.
Just thinking of Patrick Willis, who made the NFC Pro Bowl team in his first season, lining up next to Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowl performer, was enough to get Smith more excited about the season. “That’s going to be one of the (NFL’s) strongest linebacker corps in the middle,” Smith said.
Earlier in the day, Willis declined to discuss the possibility of playing next to Spikes, saying, “It’s business. That’s all.”
Spikes, 31, takes over as the starter at strong inside linebacker, which is known as the “Ted” position. Derek Smith was the starter last season. Jeff Ulbrich has been No. 1 on the depth chart throughout this offseason.
Coach Mike Nolan has noted that the 49ers lacked a true Ted linebacker — up until now. The 49ers signed Dontarrious Thomas as a free agent, but he is now Willis’ top backup at the “Mike.”
“All I can do is keep moving forward and do what I came to do and that’s play football,” Thomas said. “I can’t worry about what’s out of my control. All I can do is play hard and play good football.”
Ulbrich and rookie Larry Grant were the team’s top two Teds before the acquisition of Spikes.
Spikes (6-2, 242 pounds) started 14 games for the Eagles in 2007 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. He passed a physical Sunday afternoon before he signed with the 49ers.
Spikes played five seasons with the Bengals, the club that selected him No. 13 overall in the 1998 draft. He made the Pro Bowl two of his four seasons with the Bills before playing for the Eagles last season.
“As far as football goes, (Spikes) is just a leader,” Smith said. “He has that quality about him. He knows his stuff. He pays attention in film study. He’s prepared. He’s the type of guy you need on a defense. He’s everything you want in a football player: He’s smart, gifted, talented, sure tackler, all those things.”
The 49ers save $1 million on the cap with the move to release Moore, who had noticeably frustrated the coaching staff with his play this summer.
“I just felt looking down the road, with our roster and the numbers that we have . . . I felt pretty confident that in the end that I was probably going to have to make a move with Brandon,” Nolan said.
“Doing it at this time is partly because he has been a loyal 49er for the last six years and this gives him an opportunity to get with another squad. He wasn’t getting as many reps as I know he would like to have.”
Moore was not able to build on the 2006 season. He started 11 games and led the 49ers with 114 tackles and 6½ sacks. Moore was named the winner of the Matt Hazeltine Award, given annually to the 49ers’ most courageous and inspirational defensive player.
“I think that the biggest thing is that we have gotten better since then from a personnel standpoint,” Nolan said.