49ers key matchup No. 2: Jean Francois vs. McQuistan


49ers key matchup No. 2: Jean Francois vs. McQuistan

Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at CenturyLink Field, Seattle.

[RELATED: 49ers key matchup No. 3: Crabtree vs. Sherman]

49ers RDT Ricky Jean Francois vs. Seattle LG Paul McQuistan

Tale of the tape
Jean Francois (95): 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, fourth season, LSU
McQuistan (67): 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, seventh season, Weber State

The 49ers called on Ricky Jean Francois, their first defensive lineman off the sideline, in the second half a week ago when Justin Smith was unable to return to action due to a left elbow injury against the New England Patriots.

Smith did not practice this week, and he is not expected to be available Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks. Even if Smith does suit up, Jean Francois will likely be counted upon to play most of the game.

When asked how he feels about Jean Francois' ability to step into the lineup in place of an All-Pro player, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, "I feel good. I think we all felt good about Ricky Jean and Ray (McDonald), anybody who goes in there. Next guy up."

McDonald and Jean Francois provided big plays for the 49ers a week ago after the Patriots rallied to score four consecutive touchdowns to pull into a 31-31 tie in the fourth quarter. McDonald and Jean Francois produced back-to-back sacks of quarterback Tom Brady as the 49ers held onto the momentum and a 41-34 victory.

Jean Francois is expected to make his fourth career start. And the 49ers' most versatile defensive lineman will be going against the Seahawks' most versatile offensive lineman. Seattle's Paul McQuistan moved from right guard to left guard when James Carpenter went on injured reserve. McQuistan also played left tackle last year when Russell Okung was injured.

Jean Francois' effectiveness can also be measured in how outside linebacker Aldon Smith fares against Okung, who is having an outstanding season at left tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Okung has yet to surrender a quarterback sack and has been beaten for only two quarterback hits in 13 games.

Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks through 14 games, just three behind Michael Strahan's NFL record of 22.5 sacks, which he set for the New York Giants in 2001.

Justin Smith, who has made 185 consecutive regular-season starts since his rookie season in 2001 with the Cincinnati Bengals, generally attracts a lot of double teams. He ties up blockers, which benefits Aldon Smith, as well as inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Jean Francois must do a good job in his one-on-one matchups against McQuistan.

After all, Jean Francois said he figures the Seahawks will try to test him with a steady diet of running back Marshawn Lynch coming his way. Lynch has rushed for 1,379 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He gained 103 yards on 19 carries in the 49ers' 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park on Oct. 18.

"I usually get that every game, from the first time I started against Tampa Bay, I know they're going to come at me," Jean Francois said. "Everybody knows Justin Smith is one of the best D-linemen, so they're dealing with a guy who has played or hasn't started. That's the best part about it. They get to come at me."

Jean Francois is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in the offseason, so a strong showing could increase his stock on the open market. But as he prepared this week to start and play every down in place of one of the 49ers' most influential players.

"It would help me, but it's going to help my teammates, too," Jean Francois said. "It's another step closer to having a bye week, winning the division and so on and so on. Free agency? I'm not worried about that. I'm just worried about the season and what I can control right now."

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”