49ers

49ers focus on improving offensive skill positions

49ers focus on improving offensive skill positions

On the first day of the new league year, the 49ers reached contract agreements with nine unrestricted free agents, including seven offensive players and a kicker.

General manager John Lynch went from the “liberating” feeling of having no quarterbacks under contract to placing Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley on the depth chart.

While Colin Kaepernick remains available at a fraction of his previously scheduled $14.9 million salary, the 49ers prioritized signing two quarterbacks who opened last season as reserves to Jay Cutler with the Chicago Bears.

The past four seasons the 49ers have ranked 32nd, 29th, 30th and 30th in passing yards. Under new coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers seemed intent on adding players to help improve their passing game.

[RELATED: Report: Kirk Cousins says 'I'm going to be a 49er' eventually]

Neither Hoyer nor Barkley is likely be viewed as a long-term answer at quarterback, so the 49ers remain open to using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback such as Mitchell Trubisky or patiently waiting for Kirk Cousins to become available at a reasonable price. The 49ers' best option could be to wait after this season to obtain him at no compensation to Washington.

Cousins officially signed his exclusive franchise tender with Washington on Friday, according to his agent. With that formality, Cousins can now be traded. But Washington has shown no inclination to deal Cousins, who could walk a year from now as a free agent.

Here is a look at the players who saw action for the 49ers last season at the offensive skill positions, and how things look after the first day of free agency:

Quarterback
2016: Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert
2017: Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley
The 49ers must keep all their options open at quarterback, but it’s unclear whether they remain in the market for another veteran to add to the mix unless an obvious starter becomes available.

Hoyer was clearly the 49ers’ top target among the available quarterbacks. Shanahan worked with him for a season with the Cleveland Browns. Hoyer averaged 329.5 yards passing in his four full games with the Chicago Bears last season before sustaining a season-ending broken left arm.

The 49ers, meanwhile, averaged a league-worst 181.9 yards passing per game.

Barkley is now with his third team in his short career after beginning with Philadelphia Eagles during the Chip Kelly era. Barkley will enter training camp competing for a spot on the 53-man roster. Whether the 49ers keep two or three quarterbacks remains to be determined.

Running back
2016: Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Raheem Mostart, Mike Davis
2017: Carlos Hyde, Kyle Juszczyk, Raheem Mostart, Mike Davis
The 49ers are certainly in the market to add to the running back position. Carlos Hyde remains a work in progress but the clear choice to be the team’s top runner.

“Right now, I see Carlos being our back,” Shanahan said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We’ve studied a lot of the guys on tape. He’s the guy that’s got the most. Carlos is a guy who I was a fan of coming out of college. He had a real good career there. I looked at him hard when I was in Cleveland at the time and had a good feeling he was going to be a great back then. I don’t think he’s a finished product. I think there’s a lot more to his game and I look forward to us helping him bring that out.”

The 49ers now have a fullback with the addition of Juszczyk. He is a highly versatile player who can line up all across the formation to provide Shanahan with many options to find the best matchups. In the past two seasons with Baltimore, Juszczyk caught 78 passes for 587 yards. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in his final season with the Ravens.

Wide receiver
2016: Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Jeremy Kerley, Aaron Burbridge, Rod Streater, Chris Harper
2017: Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley, Aldrick Robinson, Bruce Ellington, Aaron Burbridge, Chris Harper, Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter, DeAndre Carter, Rashad Ross
The 49ers released Smith this week and are obviously allowing Patton to leave as a free agent. After signing Kerley to a contract extension last week, the 49ers struck in free agency with the additions of Garçon, Goodwin and Robinson.

Here is what each of those players produced last season for their respective clubs:
Garçon (Washington): 16 games, 79 catches, 1,041 yards, 13.2 avg, 3 TDs
Kerley (49ers): 16 games, 64-667-10.4-3
Goodwin (Buffalo): 15 games, 29-431-14.9-3
Robinson (Atlanta): 16 games, 20-323-16.1-2

The 49ers should also look to add a potentially dynamic receiver within the first two days of the draft.

Tight end
2016: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Je’Ron Hamm, Jim Dray
2017: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen, Blake Bell, Je’Ron Hamm
In one of Trent Baalke’s final moves as general manager, the 49ers awarded McDonald with a contract extension that basically amounts to three years for $19.7 million.

The 49ers on Thursday added Paulsen, who is considered more of a blocking tight end. He can be kept in for pass protection or he can be a vital component in the run game. Paulsen’s best seasons as a pass-catcher came with (surprise!) Shanahan as the offensive coordinator in Washington. Paulsen combined to catch 53 passes for 575 yards and four TDs over the 2012 and ’13 seasons.

Kicker
2016: Phil Dawson
2017: Robbie Gould
The 49ers have said their good-byes to Dawson, who had a strong four-year run with the organization and is remaining in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals. Dawson, 42, was named the winner of the Bill Walsh Award as the team MVP in 2015.

Gould, 35, appeared in just 10 games for the New York Giants last season. He made all 10 of his field-goal attempts but missed three of his 23 extra-point tries. Gould ranks seventh all-time with a field-goal accuracy percentage of 85.886.

49ers' head coach Kyle Shanahan takes pride in speed of offense

49ers' head coach Kyle Shanahan takes pride in speed of offense

SANTA CLARA – If there is any validity to Matt Ryan’s complaint that former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan struggled getting play calls to his quarterback in a timely fashion, it is difficult to find much evidence.

The past two seasons, only three teams went through an entire season without the play clock expiring on offense. The Falcons under Shanahan went without a delay-of-game penalty both of the past two seasons. The Denver Broncos of last season were the only other offensive unit in the NFL that was not penalized for the play clock hitting :00.

“Any play-caller that you talk to that’s usually one of the most important things and something I pride myself on a lot, is how quick can you get a play call into a quarterback,” said Shanahan, who will remain the playcaller for the 49ers while also serving as head coach.

"And the quicker you do the more comfortable it is, not just for him but the entire offense. They’re not panicked. They’re being able to move to the line. And with me as a coordinator personally, I try almost every situation to get it in as fast as possible. And I can be honest, there’s sometimes I do better than others. There are sometimes I don’t do it as good. There’s sometimes I do it real good.”

Shanahan said he took a lot of pride in the fact that the Falcons avoided any delay-of-game penalties the past two seasons. He said Ryan deserves credit, too.

“I was really proud of those guys on offense, which is a lot of credit to Matt and the rest of the guys, that regardless when we did get it in, two years straight without a delay of game and being the only team to even do that one year I think was a pretty impressive task,” Shanahan said. “We did a good job of that as a whole.”

In a recent interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, Ryan was critical of Shanahan’s timeliness in delivering the play calls in the Falcons' collapse in Super Bowl 51. (It did not appear the Falcons' offense was scrambling to get to the line of scrimmage and get the ball snapped after the built a 28-3 lead.)

“Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in," Ryan told Prisco. "As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.”

Shanahan said on Thursday that he wants his offense to play fast. Shanahan said he sets his offense so there is no need to audible out of a play if the defense is geared to stop the primary option on a particular call.

“If it’s not the perfect play, there’s usually four other options that you’ve just got to adjust to and either get an incompletion or get a smaller gain,” Shanahan said. “But, it’s not, ‘Hey, if I don’t call the perfect play, you check and get us into the perfect play.’

"I’ve been in systems like that and it’s just what your opinion is, and there’s really no right answer, but I was pretty happy with how our system worked in Atlanta. And I’ve been confident with players playing fast and not putting so much pressure on them to fix every play that the coordinator calls. I like to put a little more on myself and I want them when I do call a bad play, we’ll give you an answer."

Shanahan will continue to call the plays from the sideline. Quarterback Brian Hoyer said he insisted on working on the radio communication during the offseason program. Hoyer played in Shanahan's offense in 2014 with the Cleveland Browns, and he said that experience should help him relay the calls more smoothly to his teammates in the huddle.

"I kind of have a method of I want to be just outside the huddle when the play is coming out," Hoyer said. "I don’t want to be in the huddle trying to give the play while he’s talking to me. I want to hear him say the play in my helmet, take a second, get in the huddle and then call the play.

"Back in Cleveland when I was just learning the system I was just trying to repeat what he was saying, get it to the team and then as I’m walking to the line of scrimmage think of the play. Whereas now, I hear the play coming in and I can paint a picture of what Kyle is trying to emphasize on that play, and then relay it to the rest of the offense and break the huddle and go. We’ve been doing that I think pretty much since day one is using that coach-to-quarterback communication.”

49ers receive early vindication on selection of Reuben Foster

49ers receive early vindication on selection of Reuben Foster

SANTA CLARA – General manager John Lynch received the text message Wednesday from Dr. Tim McAdams that might have come as a surprise to many of the teams that passed on linebacker Reuben Foster during the draft.

The 49ers’ team physician declared Foster’s surgically repaired right shoulder is ready to play football. The 49ers are scheduled for their first practice of training camp on Friday, and Foster will be a full participant.

“We feel great about our doctors, our medical program here,” Lynch said on Thursday, as the 49ers reported to training camp. “Our trainer, Jeff Ferguson, is as good as there is in the league. Dr. McAdams, world-renowned. He has the Stanford name behind him.

“We challenged him numerous times. From his observation, the shoulder was good.”

Foster’s tumble to the back end of the first round was widely blamed on his shoulder condition. The 49ers traded with the Seattle Seahawks to select Foster with the No. 31 overall pick. Almost immediately, the 49ers were scrutinized for making the selection.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported some teams did not even consider drafting Foster. One “well-placed source with knowledge of the injury” told Schefter that Foster’s surgery “didn’t take.”

The 49ers’ willingness to clear Foster for the first day of camp is a reality that appears to be in stark contrast to the opinions around the league that Foster’s shoulder would require additional surgery. The 49ers expect Foster to be ready Sunday for the first padded, contact practice of training camp.

“We pride ourselves in doing all of our due diligence, not afterward, but before we make the decisions,” Lynch said. “We’d done exhaustive research on Reuben Foster in a lot of different areas. Medically was one area.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan said he the nature of Foster’s injury convinced him that even the worst-case scenario, in the big picture, was not so bad. Foster sustained a torn rotator cuff in Alabama’s national semifinal game against Washington and played the championship game against Clemson with the injury.

“I was proud of our doctors for putting themselves out there and giving their honest opinion about what they felt,” Shanahan said. “They feel it is healed, and it’s going to be good. I respect them for doing that. They went against the norm on that, and that isn’t always easy.

“(I’m) pretty confident when it is a shoulder injury, if it doesn’t heal the right way or it’s done wrong, you have to re-do a surgery, yes, it’s time, but it’s not going to affect the guy we saw on tape.”