49ers' opponent for this week? It's the 49ers


49ers' opponent for this week? It's the 49ers

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers earned a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. But that does not mean the 49ers don't have an opponent lined up this week.
When the club returns to the practice field, it'll be 49ers vs. 49ers.Once the regular season begins, the 49ers' first-team offense rarely practices against the first-team defense. The reason is because every week NFL teams prepare to face an opponent.
The scout team -- both offense and defense -- is comprised of backups and practice-squad players. They use the projected plays and schemes that the coaches believe they'll see from the upcoming opponent.The 49ers changed up a few things several weeks ago when the offense continued to struggle inside the red zone."It actually something we've incorporated the last three weeks, going against our defense in the red zone," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday. "It has been good for us. We'll continue to build on that, especially this week, probably more than we had because we'll have the opportunity."The 49ers went through a six-game stretch in which they scored touchdowns on just 3 of 18 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Harbaugh decided to have sessions in which the 49ers practiced against their own defense, the top-ranked red-zone defense in the league.Since that time, the 49ers finished the season with six touchdowns on nine red-zone possessions."We had hit a little bit of a slump there, three or four weeks back, but it's been improving," Harbaugh said. "It's encouraging."When the 49ers return to practice Thursday, they'll practice starters vs. starters more during more than just red-zone drills."We don't know what opponent we're playing, so there will be periods in the practice where it's 49ers vs. 49ers -- us against us -- where you don't see that in the regular season," Harbaugh said. "You see that in training camp."The 49ers have started breaking down their three possible opponents for the Jan. 14 divisional-round game at Candlestick Park. If the New Orleans Saints defeat the Detroit Lions on Saturday, the 49ers will play the Saints. If not, the 49ers' first playoff opponent will be the winner of the Atlanta Falcons-New York Giants game.Harbaugh and his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John, are in the same situation. Both the 49ers and Ravens are the No. 2 seeds. The brothers have spoken and compared notes how to handle this week's of work."We're each going to handle it accordingly," Jim Harbaugh said. "Yeah, there'll be some similar things. Basically, we're on a similar schedule. We compared notes. Some things are the same, some are different."

Large report finds CTE in 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players


Large report finds CTE in 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players

CHICAGO -- Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

It's the largest update on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a debilitating brain disease that can cause a range of symptoms including memory loss.

The report doesn't confirm that the condition is common in all football players; it reflects high occurrence in samples at a Boston brain bank that studies CTE. Many donors or their families contributed because of the players' repeated concussions and troubling symptoms before they died.

"There are many questions that remain unanswered," said lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. "How common is this" in the general population and all football players?

"How many years of football is too many?" and "What is the genetic risk? Some players do not have evidence of this disease despite long playing years," she noted.

It's also uncertain if some players' lifestyle habits - alcohol, drugs, steroids, diet - might somehow contribute, McKee said.

Dr. Munro Cullum, a neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, emphasized that the report is based on a selective sample of men who were not necessarily representative of all football players. He said problems other than CTE might explain some of their most common symptoms before death - depression, impulsivity and behavior changes. He was not involved in the report.

McKee said research from the brain bank may lead to answers and an understanding of how to detect the disease in life, "while there's still a chance to do something about it." Currently, there's no known treatment.

The strongest scientific evidence says CTE can only be diagnosed by examining brains after death, although some researchers are experimenting with tests performed on the living. Many scientists believe that repeated blows to the head increase risks for developing CTE, leading to progressive loss of normal brain matter and an abnormal buildup of a protein called tau. Combat veterans and athletes in rough contact sports like football and boxing are among those thought to be most at risk.

The new report was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

CTE was diagnosed in 177 former players or nearly 90 percent of brains studied. That includes 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players, seven of eight Canadian Football league players and three of 14 high school players. The disease was not found in brains from two younger players.

A panel of neuropathologists made the diagnosis by examining brain tissue, using recent criteria from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, McKee said.

The NFL issued a statement saying these reports are important for advancing science related to head trauma and said the league "will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes."

After years of denials, the NFL acknowledged a link between head blows and brain disease and agreed in a $1 billion settlement to compensate former players who had accused the league of hiding the risks.

The journal update includes many previously reported cases, including former NFL players Bubba Smith, Ken Stabler, Dave Duerson and Ralph Wenzel.

New ones include retired tight end Frank Wainright, whose 10-year NFL career included stints with the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. Wainright died in April 2016 at age 48 from a heart attack triggered by bleeding in the brain, said his wife, Stacie. She said he had struggled almost eight years with frightening symptoms including confusion, memory loss and behavior changes.

Wainright played before the league adopted stricter safety rules and had many concussions, she said. He feared CTE and was adamant about donating his brain, she said.

"A lot of families are really tragically affected by it - not even mentioning what these men are going through and they're really not sure what is happening to them. It's like a storm that you can't quite get out of," his wife said.

Frank Wycheck, another former NFL tight end, said he worries that concussions during his nine-year career - the last seven with the Tennessee Titans - have left him with CTE and he plans to donate his brain to research.

"Some people have heads made of concrete, and it doesn't really affect some of those guys," he said. "But CTE is real."

"I know I'm suffering through it, and it's been a struggle and I feel for all the guys out there that are going through this," said Wycheck, 45.

In the new report, McKee and colleagues found the most severe disease in former professional players; mild disease was found in all three former high school players diagnosed with the disease. Brain bank researchers previously reported that the earliest known evidence of CTE was found in a high school athlete who played football and other sports who died at age 18. He was not included in the current report.

The average age of death among all players studied was 66. There were 18 suicides among the 177 diagnosed.

Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills


Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills

Aquan Boldin is looking for a new football home.

And the former 49ers wide receiver is visiting with the Bills on Monday, according to multiple reports.

Boldin started all 16 games with the Lions last season, recording 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns.

From 2013 to 2015 with the 49ers, he racked up 237 receptions, 3030 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

The three-time Pro Bowler will turn 37 years old in October.

Boldin entered the NFL as the 54th overall pick in the 2003 draft.