49ers mailbag: Why Dixon and not Gore late in game?

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49ers mailbag: Why Dixon and not Gore late in game?

The 49ers' season-ending loss is still fresh in the minds of a lot of people, and here are a couple pertinent leftover questions from their 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants.Q: Why was Anthony Dixon running the ball on 3rd & 1 and not Frank Gore in the fourth quarter? (Anthony Barton)
A: This is a question that I pondered at the time, and I still can't make sense of it.

As the No. 3 running back, Anthony Dixon carried the ball 29 times all season and averaged 3.0 yards a carry. At the start of the fourth quarter, the 49ers were driving. Gore picked up 11 yards. Then, he had a 6-yard gain.On second-and-four from the Giants' 49, the 49ers got a little too cute. Dixon came into the game for his first offensive snap of the game. Defensive linemen Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga joined him.Dixon picked up 3 yards to set up a third-and-1. Dixon, Smith and Sopoaga remained on the field for that crucial play.Left guard Mike Iupati moved to right guard, as the 49ers overloaded that side of their formation. Dixon appeared to have an opening between Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis, but Dixon chose the next gap and was stopped for no gain.The 49ers punted it away on fourth down and squandered an opportunity to build on their 14-10 lead.In two playoff games, Gore carried 29 times for 163 yards (5.6 average). He had not been limited in a practice in more than a month due to any injury. Gore played 105 of the 49ers' 125 offensive snaps in the postseason. He was healthy, as his production in the playoffs seemed to prove. But the 49ers got away from running on first down. When Kendall Hunter gained 18 yards on a run play with 7:39 remaining in regulation, that was the last time in the game the 49ers attempted a run on first down.Q: Is it the WRs that aren't getting open, or is it Alex Smith missing the open windows? (Jack Britton)A: Michael Crabtree wanted more opportunities. He was targeted five times in Sunday's game, and came down with just one catch for 3 yards.The day after the game, he echoed his comments from after the game. He told CSNBayArea.com that he looked around the league and saw receivers getting passes thrown to them when there were two or three defenders in coverage.As I watch the game from the press box, I mostly follow the football. There was one time in which I noted that Crabtree appeared to be wide open out of the slot position in the third quarter but the pass didn't go his way. Instead, Smith's pass attempt to Gore was batted down at the line by Jason Pierre-Paul.Generally, though, I'd say Crabtree was not getting open, and Smith wasn't taking any chances.After all, the 49ers tied an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season. It's what Smith did best this season. He threw only five interceptions because he did not take a lot of risks.

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.”