49ers' O-line turning into strength of the offense

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49ers' O-line turning into strength of the offense

SANTA CLARA -- At the beginning of last season, the 49ers could not run the ball, quarterback Alex Smith was under constant pressure, and the team had already benched one offensive lineman.The 49ers' offensive line was generally considered one of the team's biggest question marks.Nobody is questioning the 49ers' offensive line now. In fact, the line might be the team's strongest position on that side of the ball.
"(They're) big, strong and physical," Bills coach Chan Gailey said this week in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. The Bills will come to Candlestick Park on Sunday to face the 49ers.
"They are playing extremely well," Gailey continued. "They're a strong bunch. They're probably overall, the best group we've played this year. I mean, they are playing well together now."How well?Each of the 49ers' five starting offensive linemen is improved over a year ago and ranks in the top four at their respective positions in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus' rating system that takes into account pass protection, screen blocking, run blocking and penalties.Right guard Alex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis are second at their respective positions. Boone ranks ahead of Mike Iupati as a guard and behind only Baltimore's Marshal Yanda as the top guard in the NFL. Iupati is the highest-rated left guard in the league. Left tackle Joe Staley and center Jonathan Goodwin both rank fourth at their spots."They're playing really well," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Everything we do starts with them, run and pass, starts up front. Those guys know that. We put a lot on them, and every week they seem to step up."Smith explained further the responsibilities of the line."Not just physically, mentally," he said. "Every week you can turn on the film - you play Minnesota, you play Green Bay -- with those fronts they get after the passer. A lot of the time you're seeing, every team is helping them, every team chips, every team slides, seven-man protections, eight-man protections, things like that. We put a lot on those guys. A lot of times we ask them to man up and it's one-on-one, and you've got to get it done and they do. It's a credit to them."Staley has had the most difficult assignments.He was asked to block Green Bay's Clay Matthews and Minnesota's Jared Allen one-on-one for most of those games. Matthews got past him for parts of three sacks, and Allen had a sackforced fumble at the end of the 49ers' loss to the Vikings. Staley's pass protection rating remains favorable because he allowed no other pressures in those games, and was dominant against the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Smith has been sacked 12 times in four games, but he has generally been afforded the time to throw from a clean pocket. Some of his sacks are from holding onto the ball and trying to extend the play.A year ago through four games, Smith had been sacked 14 times. Also, the 49ers averaged just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. With four of the five starters on the offensive line returning, the continuity shows. This season, the 49ers are averaging 5.4 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks second in the league.
When asked how much that cohesion has meant to the line, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh answered, "Quite a bit. Cohesive group, enjoys each others' company. Respects each others' ability and each others' work ethic. Experience of playing amongst each other, are all key factors."The conversion of Boone from the top backup tackle to a starter at right guard has proven to be, well, a boon for the 49ers.Last season, the 49ers struggled to find an answer at right guard. Chilo Rachal opened the season as the starter but was benched at halftime of the third game. Adam Snyder stepped in and played the remainder of the season.The 49ers made no attempt to re-sign Snyder as an unrestricted free agent, and he signed a five-year, 17.5 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Before the Cardinals' game Thursday night, in which they allowed nine quarterback sacks against the St. Louis Rams, Snyder ranked last among all guards in the PFF rating system.Offensive coordinator Greg Roman appears satisfied with the play of the line, but he believes even-better days are ahead."I think we're just working for that consistency week-in week-out, down-in down-out," Roman said. "(I) feel that they can be an elite group. And I think they're working towards that. At times they are that. We've just got to keep working to where it's all the time, regardless of opponent. We're working towards that. So, those guys have a great attitude and that's where it all starts."

Harbaugh goes Biblical, responds to Jacobs' criticisms of his coaching

Harbaugh goes Biblical, responds to Jacobs' criticisms of his coaching

Former NFL running back Brandon Jacobs spent one season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Jacobs only played in two games and gained seven yards on five carries. The results were nothing like his 5,087 yards and 60 touchdowns over eight years with the Giants. 

Apparently being pushed to the bench as a 31-year-old veteran running back didn't sit well with Jacobs. 

“Going somewhere where they don’t have route conversions into certain coverages was just absurd,” Jacobs said Thursday on the Tiki and Tierney Show. “They’re just running routes in the defense, getting people killed. Size and strength is what they had, and that’s why they won.

"Let’s be real. They had great assistant coaches, but Jim didn’t know what he was doing. Jim had no idea. Jim is throwing slants into Cover-2 safeties, getting people hurt. That guy knew nothing, man."

On Saturday morning, Harbaugh responded to Jacobs with a tweet to him. 

Harbaugh went 44-19-1 in four seasons as the 49ers' head coach. He also added five playoff wins and a trip to the Super Bowl in the 2012-13 season, the one that Jacobs played for him.

Shanahan: Brooks earns place on 49ers' first-team defense

Shanahan: Brooks earns place on 49ers' first-team defense

SANTA CLARA – The eldest non-kicker on the 49ers’ roster is learning a new position this offseason.

But Ahmad Brooks has plenty of experience adapting to new positions during his 12-year NFL career. He has played inside linebacker, outside linebacker in a 3-4 and defensive end in pass-rush situations.

Now, Brooks has moved to the strong side linebacker position -- the “Sam” -- in the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“He’s getting them (first-team repetitions) because he deserves them,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. “Watching how he played last year and then going into this offseason, you never know when a guy who has been around a bunch, if they’re going to feel that they need the offseason like other people do. And Ahmad’s been here every day and he’s needed it just like everyone has anytime you’re learning a new scheme.

“But anytime you have a veteran like that, you worry that, hey, maybe they won’t think that they do need it. But Ahmad has and he’s been here. He’s worked at everything. He’s in good shape. He’s done what we’ve asked in the weight room with Ray and he’s done everything with the position coaches and coordinator on defense. So, I think he’s learning it and he should because he’s putting the work in.”

Brooks, 33, has entered the past three offseasons with his place on the 49ers seemingly in jeopardy. But the 49ers have not been able to find a younger, better player to replace him. Brooks has tied for the team-lead in sacks in each of the past four seasons with 27 sacks over that span.

Eli Harold, Dekoda Watson and undrafted rookie Jimmie Gilbert were the other players who lined up at the Sam position during the first week of 49ers organized team activities.

Brooks and Aaron Lynch, starters at outside linebacker for the 49ers in the previous systems, have the steepest learning curves in the transition to a new defense. Lynch has moved to the team’s pass-rush defensive end position, known as the “Leo.”

“I think techniques are totally different,” Shanahan said. “How you want to take on blocks, how you want to play the run. Ahmad has been around a little longer than Aaron. So he’s probably had a little bit more crossover, some similar schemes.”