A quick call to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. helped advance the discussion on Brian Westbrook's addition to the San Francisco 49ers. Matt was leaving Pittsburgh Steelers training camp when I reached him Monday afternoon, not long after the 49ers announced Westbrook's signing. His take:
"I'd rather have Westbrook than Glen Coffee. I didn't think Coffee was a very good player. Maybe he knew that. He was very much a straight-line banger. Coffee was not a good enough No. 2, and they probably knew that with the drafting of Anthony Dixon, and then the kid retired.
"Westbrook clearly is a big upgrade as a pass catcher, and you cannot overlook that in any way. They say they want to be a heavy run team, and that is all well and good, but whether you like it or not, Alex Smith is the most important guy on that team. He is a quarterback most comfortable working out of the spread, and you have to cater to him. Just because you draft two big offensive linemen doesn't mean you have to pound the ball over and over and over. You need to do three-wides and use spread principles, and Westbrook fits that very well. He is an excellent pass protector. He also compliments Gore very well.
"Gore is a workhorse, but he is also injured a lot. You need someone like Westbrook to give you two games at a time, and I think he can probably still do that. Watching him, he is still a good football player. It comes down to what your team doctors say. If they say he's a liability with a knee, ankle or head, you cannot sign him. But apparently a handful of team doctors do not think it's an issue. This is a very good signing. The 49ers are a contender. If I were him, I'd much rather go there than to St. Louis or Washington. It adds up on all fields."
There were times last season when the 49ers' offense didn't seem to fit Smith and Gore at the same time. Gore preferred running out of the I-formation. Smith was more comfortable when the 49ers favored spread-type principles. While it's important for Smith and Gore to coexist in that context, Westbrook's addition could make it easier for the 49ers to more fully embrace a wider-open offense when it suits them. And if Gore stays fresher and healthier as a result, he comes out ahead, too.