Editor’s note: Watch the 49ers @ the Saints Live at 5 p.m. Friday on KPIX-TV CBS 5.
NEW ORLEANS (CBS Sports / AP) — The San Francisco 49ers open the preseason at New Orleans on Friday night, and even though it’s just an exhibition, the defense couldn’t be happier to have recently resigned veteran defender Dashon Goldson against Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-scoring offense.
Goldson turned down other offers to stay in the Bay Area, where he has played the past four seasons. He finished with 80 tackles, one sack and an interception in 2010. He has started 32 games over the past two seasons, and the Niners are hoping for big things out of him.
“I’m glad that he’s back,” said safety Donte Whitner. “I think we’ll have a pretty good tandem in the secondary.”
Whitner, meanwhile, has stepped into a starting spot and also a leadership role on defense.
The 49ers have two excellent players on defense, inside linebacker Patrick Willis and right defensive end Justin Smith. Neither, however, is vocal inside the locker room.
That role instead was filled in recent seasons by inside linebacker Takeo Spikes, who signed with the San Diego Chargers.
Whitner seems like a worthy substitute, and he has embraced that role.
“The front seven is set right now from what I’ve seen,” Whitner said. “We have the ‘backers. We have the defensive line. … What we’re really going to have to shore up is the secondary. And I take responsibility for that.”
Whitner’s right. While Smith and Willis have helped make the 49ers one of the best run-stopping defenses in the league – they finished sixth in that category last year – the team has struggled against the pass. The 49ers finished 24th in yards allowed last season.
Whitner said the 49ers eventually envision themselves as having a blitzing, aggressive defense similar to the 3-4 schemes the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers run. In fact, he said the early plan is for him to have a Troy Polamalu-type role. That is, he would play closer to the line of scrimmage, blitz occasionally and make plays all over the field.
Whitner’s 140 tackles last season were fifth best in the NFL and were the highest for a non-linebacker.
“In Buffalo in previous years, we played Tampa-2 (defense), which I wasn’t able to be as aggressive as I’d like,” Whitner said. “Last year we switched to a 3-4, but having a young front really hurt. I’m looking forward to doing things as far as disguise and blitz and really fool with quarterbacks, and coaches are going to allow me to do that.”
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)