49ers dare to compare: 1981 vs. 2011

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49ers dare to compare: 1981 vs. 2011

Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. has been watching his former team -- every minute, of every game. That is, unless he gets to nervous and has to get up and walk around before coming back to the television.

Im having so much fun following it, DeBartolo said recently.

He talks to his nephew Jed York regularly, has given him advice (dont get the yips yet -- theres plenty of time for that) and lauds him for minding his own business and staying out of Jim Harbaughs way. He cringed when the lights went out at Candlestick How right was I when I called it a pigsty? he said referring to his 1985 remark -- and suspects Jed of pulling the plug.

And DeBartolo feels the vibe in the air -- one that brings back memories of 1981.

There are a lot of parallels, he said.

But DeBartolo thinks this 49ers team may be even better than his group.

Three-quarters of the guys on the 81 team are pissed off at me for saying this, he said, But position by position, all in all, this is a better football team.

Is he right? It sounds almost like blasphemy but is this a better football team than the 1981 team that started the dynasty and won the first of five Super Bowls?

I asked Randy Cross (@randycrossFB) on twitter Friday. He responded: In todays FB world I think today's players are the most talented ever but a TEAM wins a Championship, that remains to be seen. He added that this version of the 49ers has much more recognized Stars that's for sure. O-linemen of course not being Stars but overall yes.

So he agrees with DeBartolo though I would dispute that this version of the 49ers has more stars than that version did. Maybe the stars were young, back in 1981 but they were getting national attention.

Todays players are super-athletic, bigger and faste. Its hard to compare eras. But is this team, position by position in the context of its era, better than the 1981 team?

Lets take a look:

OFFENSE
The 2011 49ers are ranked 11th in overall offense, 29th in passing and 8th in rushing. In 1981, the offense ranked 7th overall, 7th in passing and 19th in rushing.

QUARTERBACK: Sorry Eddie. Everyone knows the 81 team was superior at the all-important position. Alex Smith has done a solid job and defied expectations. But Joe Montana is a once in a lifetime quarterback, a Hall of Famer who may be the best of all time.
EDGE: '81 49ers

OFFENSIVE LINE: Dan Audick, John Ayers, Fred Quillan, Randy Cross and Keith Fahnhorst made up the 1981 team. Audick, one of the original undersized left tackles, protected Montanas blind side until 1984. Cross was a six-time Pro Bowl selection. He along with Ayers, Quillan and Fahnhorst formed the rock of one of the best offenses in history for close to a decade. Anthony Davis, Joe Staley, Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati and Adam Snyder have come together nicely. But get back to us in 2017 before we can say they were as good as that 81 unit.
EDGE: 81 team.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Since the current 49ers can barely field a full wide receiving squad the nod is automatically going to the 81 team. Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Kyle Williams cant compete with Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon and a young Mike Wilson.
EDGE: 81 team.

RUNNING BACK: OK, Eddie this one absolutely belongs to the 2011 team. One of the most amazing things about the 81 team was what Bill Walsh did with virtually no running game. Ricky Patton? Bill Ring? Lenvil Elliott (who was awesome on the drive leading up to the Catch but did little leading up to that)? Frank Gore is one of the best in the league, a warrior, a player for the ages.
EDGE: 11 team.

TIGHT END: Though Bill Walsh was an innovator with this position, he didnt have the right weapon in Charle Young -- serviceable but not outstanding. Walsh would have loved to have Vernon Davis.
EDGE: 11 team.

DEFENSE
Both the 2011 49ers and the 1981 49ers were the second-ranked defenses in the league. The 2011 team is first at stopping the run, 16th against the pass. In 1981 the team was third in the league against the pass and 12th against the run.

DEFENSIVE LINE: In 1981, Jim Stuckey, Archie Reese, Lawrence Pillars and Dwaine Board were a formidable front and they made the play that sealed the 81 win, when Pillers sacked Danny White, forcing a fumble, and Stuckey recovered the ball. Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, Issac Sopoaga have been fabulous. Its hard to compare, because 1981 was the last year that the NFL did not keep defensive statistics on sacks. But we know the 49ers current front is excellent at getting pressure and better at stopping the run. The 49ers front seven is the best in football and it starts with these guys.
EDGE: '11 team.

LINEBACKERS: The 49ers linebacker corps Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith -- may go down as one of the greatest units in linebacking history. The 81 unit anchored by veteran Jack Reynolds and rookie Keena Turner, with Craig Puki and Willie Harper, was good but not all-world.
EDGE: '11 team.

SECONDARY: The 2011 defensive backfield has been opportunistic. Corners Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers and safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldon have held their own. But Dwight Hicks and the Hotlicks Hicks and his three rookies was a tremendous backfield. Ronnie Lott would go on to be a Hall of Famer, and was playing corner, on the other side Eric Wright was the best cover corner in his day and Carlton Williamson took care of business.
EDGE: '81 team.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Ray Wersching and punter Jim Miller were solid in 1981. The 49ers were 4th in kicking and punting. But Andy Lee and David Akers are indispensible, and field position and field goals have been a huge reason behind the 49ers record.
EDGE: '11 team

COACH
Bill Walsh. Jim Harbaugh may go to the Hall of Fame someday. Hes a fantastic coach. But in 1981, Walsh was changing the game forever.

VERDICT: Its very close. With the benefit of hindsight we can see the longevity and long-term greatness of 1981 team. But its pretty clear that -- aside from the running game and tight end -- the 1981 49ers were superior on offense. And that aside from the secondary (which will obviously be in the spotlight against the Saints) the 2011 49ers are superior on defense.

We know how the 1981 teams journey played out. The 2011 team is about to write its story.

Freelance writer Ann Killion is a regular contributor to CSNBayArea.com and Chronicle Live.

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.

Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.

“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”

Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.

The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.

“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.

“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”

After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.

As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.

“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”

 

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.

Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.

Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.

“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).

“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”

Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.

Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.

Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.

Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.

There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.

“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”

Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.

“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.

“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”

Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.

“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.

“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”

The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.

Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.

“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.

“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”

During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.

“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”

Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.

Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’

“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”