49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses


49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses

Yes, the 49ers won a hard-fought game Thursday night against a team that began the night tied atop the NFC West standings.The defense put the clamps down in the second half against an overmatched Seattle passing game. No big surprise there. Marshawn Lynch had a lot of success against the 49ers' run defense, but they kept him out the end zone.So it goes to reason we go to the Monday Morning Mailbag (special Friday afternoon edition) to answer questions about the 49ers' offense following the 49ers' 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park. . . How come Alex Smith is back to blowing hot and cold again? (Matt Healey)
Smith has been programmed to live in fear of making mistakes. Even before the arrival of the current coaching staff, one of the knocks on him was that he had to see a receiver wide open in order to pull the trigger.That cautious approach was a big reason he threw only five interceptions last season in 18 games, including the playoffs. But it's also a reason the offense is susceptible to sputtering along at times.And it kind of leads into the next question, too...
Where is Vernon Davis?
That question or some form of it came from several folks via Facebook and Twitter, including James Clevenger and Tom Cox.The New York Giants took Davis out of the picture last week. And the Seahawks did the same Thursday night with their coverages.If Smith sees double coverage -- or just tight single coverage -- on anyone, he is going to look to go elsewhere with the football. That was part of Michael Crabtree's frustration after the 49ers' loss in the NFC championship game to the New York Giants.It's easy to fault the play-calling as vanilla, but you can be sure that few of those short throws that Smith made Thursday were No. 1 on the progression. I don't believe the coaching staff ties Smith's hands, as much as Smith chooses to be cautious based on his own decision-making after the snap of the ball.On the touchdown drive, it's difficult to fault Smith. He checked down five times to underneath targets. Those pass plays gained 15, 11, 12, 10 and 12 yards.According to Pro Football Focus, on pass attempts of 10-plus yards downfield, Smith completed only 2 of 6 for 32 yards with one interception. (Randy Moss, the intended target on the interception, was a little more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage as he ran the back line of the end zone.)Seattle's physical play from their cornerbacks is the perfect defense for the 49ers' passing game. If Smith sees a receiver being held up against press coverage, he's likely going to immediately look elsewhere.There is no reason the 49ers should not have been able to make some plays in the passing game with the amount of time the 49ers' offensive line supplied for Smith on Thursday. Smith was sacked twice for minus-2 yards, but the offensive line was not responsible for any sacks or quarterback hits, according to PFF.Davis is an important part of the 49ers' offense. He's the one pass target that scares teams. Teams want to the 49ers to look elsewhere. And regardless of what defenses are doing to Davis, Smith has to find a way to give him chances.On Thursday, Davis was not targeted on any pass attempts.
Will Brandon Jacobs ever find a role in this offense? (James Guzikowski)
If either Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter is ever unavailable for a game, Jacobs would slide into the role of the backup and he might get a half-dozen touches.Right now, Jacobs is the 49ers' No. 3 running back. But he is also the No. 4 running back in line to be active for games because Anthony Dixon gets the nod ahead of him based on his value on special teams.Others asked, "Why the 49ers signed Brandon Jacobs if they aren't playing him?"The 49ers felt good about Gore and Hunter. They did not feel all that great about Dixon as the No. 3 running back, so they looked to upgrade that spot on the depth chart. The 49ers wanted to strengthen the back end of their roster. They signed Jacobs to a one-year deal to get him on the team to see if he could help.Games such as Thursday night's brutal affair with the Seahawks is a reminder of how depth is needed. Gore exited in the fourth quarter with bruised ribs. Jacobs may yet be needed for a significant role.The decision to draft LaMichael James in the second round is more difficult to explain than the signing of Jacobs. James and Hunter are similar, though Hunter is better suited as an every-down back. And Hunter figures to be around for a while.

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.”