49ers' dominant linebacking corps looking to improve


49ers' dominant linebacking corps looking to improve

SANTA CLARA -- At his fifth Pro Bowl earlier this year, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis got quite an earful about the 49ers' 2011 season.

"It's amazing when you hear other guys and other coaches say, 'Wow, you guys played football the way it's supposed to be played.' To hear them say that, for me, it makes me want to push even harder to be that example, to set those standards."

Willis and NaVorro Bowman are considered by many to be the best inside-linebacking duo in the NFL. But this is only their first OTA with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

They're both realizing there is so much to learn about Fangio's defense that will make them even better.

"Now when we're in meetings, and we're learning something, we look at each other and be like, 'How did we play a whole season last year without knowing that?'" Willis said. "So now it's just understanding the defense that much more."

Bowman agrees.

"We're starting all over," said Bowman, who had 143 total tackles last season. "We're just trying to get better at the defenses that we learned last year -- and maybe put some new things in. We're definitely taking advantage of the time we have now. It should make us a better team."

Having a capable backup in Larry Grant, who stepped up when Willis was sidelined late in the year, makes them that much better as well.

Grant amassed 34 tackles, five passes defensed and a game-changing forced fumble in Seattle in the four games Willis was out with injury.

"Being in there, able to play with the rest of the guys on this defense, it also helps my comfort as well, and helps their comfort with me," Grant said. "Just knowing if something was to happen with either one of those guys there wouldn't be any drop-off. And they know that I can play now, they trust me a lot more."

The comfort level among these linebackers is found off the field as well.

"We got the two best guys in the league and our role is basically the same," Grant said.

Still unconvinced there is a place for Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL


Still unconvinced there is a place for Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL

I hadn’t considered the notion of Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles bombing quite so badly Thursday night, so I hadn’t considered the notion advanced by Pro Football Talk Friday morning that Jacksonville might be a great place for Colin Kaepernick.

That’s because I long ago stopped considering the idea that Kaepernick’s exile from football was, or is, about football. It isn’t. He is the example for future player/miscreants, and trotting his name out every time a quarterback in the new NFL vomits up a practice game on national television is simply perpetuating a lie.

Until someone gets so desperate that it isn’t any more.

That’s the problem with being so definitive about Kaepernick’s perpetual ban. It only takes one owner with a willingness to stick a middle finger up to the objections and say, “I own a football team, not some branch of the USO” to end this national spitfest once and for all. And yes, I say owner because this is an owner’s decision, solely and completely. In the hypothetical of Kaepernick the Jaguar, it will be made not by Doug Marrone, who is merely a coach, or by Tom Coughlin, who is only the general manager, but Shahid Khad, one of the brightest and quietly more powerful owners in the league.

But the odds still scream No Kaep For You, because it would mean that exhibition games matter for judgmental purposes (which they don’t), that Bortles is somehow worse than half the quarterbacks in the NFL (he is part of an amorphous blob of non-producers whose numbers are growing as the differences between college and pro football offenses expand), and that owners easily break away from the herd once the herd has decided on something (Khan is not a rebel in the Jerry Jones mold by any means).

In other words, I remain unconvinced that there is a place for Colin Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL. And he’s probably better off.

Zuttah ends up back with Ravens after release from 49ers


Zuttah ends up back with Ravens after release from 49ers

One week after center Jeremy Zuttah played his way off the 49ers’ roster in short order, he ended up back with the team that got rid of him to open the offseason.

The Baltimore Ravens on Friday announced the signing of Zuttah, whom the 49ers released on Aug. 9 after acquiring him from the Ravens in a March trade.

The 49ers determined center Daniel Kilgore was clearly better than Zuttah. Moreover, Zuttah he did not demonstrate any promise of being an asset at either of the guard positions.

Zuttah, 31, played the past three seasons with the Ravens after six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Zuttah was named to his first Pro Bowl after last season.

The 49ers originally acquired Zuttah in a swap of sixth-round draft picks. The Ravens received the 49ers’ pick at No. 186 and selected Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark. The 49ers took over Baltimore’s selection at No. 198 and chose Mississippi defensive tackle D.J. Jones.

The 49ers are confident in Kilgore and offensive tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown. However, there is concern at the guard positions.

Brandon Fusco appears to be earning the confidence of the coaching staff at right guard. But left guard remains a concern. Zane Beadles is currently the starter while Joshua Garnett rehabs from arthroscopic knee surgery to repair cartilage. The 49ers are hopeful Garnett will be available for the opening of the regular season.