49ers improve to 6-1 with 20-10 victory over Browns

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49ers improve to 6-1 with 20-10 victory over Browns

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Frank Gore received regular calls and encouragement from Roger Craig all offseason as he recovered from a fractured hip. Craig shared training tips, too.When Gore charged up the middle with his signature burst for a 2-yard gain Sunday, he took another step forward in franchise history by moving past Craig into second place on the 49ers career rushing list.Gore ran for both 125-plus yards and a touchdown in a fourth straight game, Michael Crabtree made his first TD reception of the season, and San Francisco beat the Cleveland Browns 20-10 for its fifth straight victory."It's a blessing to have my name mentioned next to his," Gore said. "This last year, we got to be close. When I got hurt, he called me every day. He was telling me I was going to be all right, to keep working."Now, San Francisco's star running back is determined to chase another of Craig's accomplishments: those three Super Bowl rings.And this is Gore's best chance yet to get there.He is making his case for a third Pro Bowl while pushing his team toward its first playoff berth in nine years."It's fun. We're right here in the middle of it almost at the halfway point," defensive end Justin Smith said. "We've got a decent thing going on. We've got to continue to go. We've got a long grind ahead of us."Alex Smith completed 15 of 24 passes for 177 yards for the first-place 49ers (6-1), who haven't lost since falling in overtime to the Cowboys on Sept. 18."Not perfect, but beautiful," coach Jim Harbaugh said.No handshake flap this time for Harbaugh, either. And no post-bye letdown for his 49ers - even if it was far from flashy.This marked Harbaugh's first game since his seconds-long greeting and firm backslap of Lions coach Jim Schwartz following San Francisco's 25-19 comeback win at Detroit two weeks ago.Harbaugh says he practiced during the bye week by high-fiving with his toddler daughter, Addison, whom he carried out of the stadium Sunday night. Harbaugh was polite to fellow first-year coach Pat Shurmur when they met at midfield."It went well," Harbaugh said.The 49ers - who were made aware by Harbaugh during the week that teams were 3-9 after their byes coming into Sunday - are off to their first 6-1 start since 1998 in the days of greats Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Steve Young.For Colt McCoy and the Browns, it's 0-for the Bay Area. They lost two weeks ago in Oakland, then floundered across San Francisco Bay at Candlestick Park.Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson committed a costly facemask penalty against Gore that would have stopped San Francisco on third down 2 yards short in the waning minutes. David Akers sealed it with his second field goal of the day, a 26-yarder.Gore already had 103 yards on 19 carries by halftime, then got the other 7 yards he needed to pass Craig and move up the list with 7,089. Gore wound up with 134 yards on a career-high tying 31 carries, his most rushes since Dec. 31, 2006, against Denver.San Francisco has a five-game winning streak for the first time since 2001 and wrapped up its first unbeaten October since 1997.The next big task will be ending an eight-year stretch of frustration in which the team hasn't had a winning season or made the playoffs. The Niners increased their comfortable cushion to four games in the division nicknamed the NFC Worst last year, when Seattle won with a 7-9 record."It was an ugly win, but we ain't putting no points on it. This ain't the BCS with the style points you need to be No. 1," defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said.Harbaugh's big brother, John, helped the sibling cause by rallying to beat Arizona 30-27 earlier Sunday.The banged-up Browns (3-4) improved on special teams, but went without their top two running backs. Peyton Hillis didn't play for the second straight game because of a hamstring injury and Cleveland then lost Montario Hardesty to a strained right calf in the first half.McCoy and Co. managed only Phil Dawson's 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first half before Josh Cribbs' 45-yard TD catch with 6:17 to play.After last week's lackluster 6-3 win over the Seahawks, it didn't get much better for the Browns. They failed to reach the end zone for seven quarters before Cribbs scored."Back home, I hope they don't go into a frenzy like the world is going to end," Cribbs said.McCoy accounted for four of Cleveland's five fumbles, one of which was lost and helped set up Gore's early 4-yard TD run.McCoy - sacked four more times after five last week - lost the ball on the second play from scrimmage after he was stripped by Ahmad Brooks. Isaac Sopoaga recovered at the Cleveland 20.San Francisco's lopsided first half told the tale far before the clock finally wound down.First downs: 15-6. Total yards: 253-93. Time of possession: 18:58-11:02. Rushing yards: 145-25.Crabtree caught a 2-yard pass to put the Niners ahead 17-0 just before halftime. Dashon Goldson made his first interception of 2011 in the end zone in the third quarter.Left tackle Joe Staley even was in on the action, catching a 17-yard pass from Smith for a first down midway through the first quarter for his first career reception. He jumped up in celebration and signaled the first down by emphatically pointing down field with both hands."A little prima donnish for a lineman," Smith quipped.Notes: 49ers WR Braylon Edwards returned against his former club in his first action since right knee surgery after getting hurt vs. the Cowboys. He had four catches. ... The Browns had won the three previous meetings, including 20-7 in '07.

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spent last offseason working with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics.

Ryan went on to set career-bests in completion percentage (69.9), yards passing (4,944), touchdowns (38), interceptions (7) and passer rating (117.1).

New 49ers quarterback Matt Barkley worked with House and Dedeaux for the fourth offseason in Southern California before reporting to Santa Clara for the team’s offseason program.

“Kyle (Shanhan) is on board with what House and those guys are doing – I think, really, because of the year Matt Ryan had,” Barkley said on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s a believer in that. He saw the benefits of what Matt did with some of his drops and the timing on routes, how he changed his feet on some things. So we’re kind of sticking with that plan. Everyone is a little different, but for the most part we’re all on the same page when it comes to what our drops are looking like, our footwork and how the ball is coming out.”

House is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who founded the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles. Dedeaux pitched at USC and is the grandson of USC baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux. Former NFL quarterback John Beck is a motion mechanics instructor.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are among the NFL quarterbacks who have worked with 3DQB.

“I believe in those guys and what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “They’re at the top of their game, working with Brady and a bunch of other guys. They’ve helped me.

“He won’t change your throwing motion or really tweak how the ball comes out, but he’s going to try to maximize velocity and ground force production and torque -- a lot of sports science terms. But, really, just maximizing efficiency with your motion and making sure you’re sequencing is right.”

Barkley had never played for Shanahan before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. But there are two obvious connections. Barkley’s offensive coordinator last season with the Chicago Bears was Dowell Loggains, Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 when Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. The other connection is House.

"It’s kind of funny, he worked with Atlanta’s staff all of last year, helped Matt Ryan, kind of build his base from the ground up and helped him a lot and he had an MVP year," Barkley said of House.

"There may have been talks down the pipeline, who knows. I don’t think that was the deciding factor by any means, but it never hurts.”