49ers-Rams: Matchups to watch


49ers-Rams: Matchups to watch

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's almost impossible to come up with "matchups to watch" in any game featuring the St. Louis Rams.After all, it's always problematic to find Rams who will actually be healthy enough to play.The team has been decimated by injuries this season. Nine players who have started games this season are among the 13 players whose seasons have already ended with trips to injured reserve.The list of those lost for the season includes receiver Danny Amendola, both starting offensive tackles, Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith, and six -- that's right, six -- cornerbacks.Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher were the Rams' starting cornerbacks to open the season. They played a combined five games before both were lost for the season. Veteran Al Harris started five games before he was lost for the season.The Rams continue to have injury concerns, as their most important offensive player, quarterback Sam Bradford, and their best defensive player, Chris Long, are questionable with ankle injuries.
Tale of the tape
49ers RT Anthony Davis (76): 6-5, 323, Rutgers, second season
Rams DE Chris Long (91): 6-3, 270, Virginia, fourth seasonIn his second NFL season, Davis has shown vast improvement and consistency over his rookie season. But there is no denying Davis struggled Thanksgiving night against the Baltimore Ravens.Things do not get a whole lot easier on Sunday, as he'll be matched against Long, who is quickly becoming recognized as one of the top challenges for right tackles. At least Davis will be playing alongside right guard Adam Snyder again, as he's back from a hamstring strain that forced him out of the game against the Ravens.
Long, however, might not be at full strength. He missed practice time this week with an ankle sprain. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, but the 49ers expect Long to be on the field. Long has not missed a game in his NFL career.Long is sixth in the NFL with 10 sacks on the season, and he has recorded at least one sack in five consecutive games. Half of his sacks have come in the fourth quarter of games."He's just a good football player," Davis said. "I've seen him play just as well against the run. He's a good pass-rusher, good motor. He's good."Last season, Long got the better of Davis in two matchups with a sack in each game and four quarterback pressures. Both Long and Davis are better than a year ago, Davis said."It's a different matchup this year," Davis said. "We're both different players."This is a huge matchup for the 49ers, whose pass protection will be looking to rebound from a forgettable performance in a 16-6 loss to the Ravens. The 49ers allowed nine sacks -- a 13-year worst performance for the team. Other matchups worth watching
49ers RB Frank Gore (21) vs. Rams LB James Laurinaitis (55): The Rams have the worst rush defense in the league. Arizona's Beanie Wells gained 228 yards on 27 rushing attempts last week in the Cardinals' 23-20 win at St. Louis. Laurinaitis is the Rams' leading tackler, and he must shed blocks and make the stop of Gore to prevent him from breaking into the secondary. Gore has five 100-yard games this season, and he needs 22 yards to break the 49ers' franchise record for rushing yards since the club entered the NFL in 1950.49ers NT Isaac Sopoaga (90) vs. Rams C Tony Wragge (64): The 49ers' run defense has been outstanding -- and that's an understatement. And a lot of it starts with Sopoaga clogging up the middle. The 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 33 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. They are the first team since the 1928 Providence Steamrollers to not allow a rushing touchdown in the first 11 games of a season. In fact, the last player to score a rushing touchdown against them was the Rams' Steven Jackson. He scored on a 1-yard run on Dec. 26. The 49ers have gone 51 quarters without allowing a rushing TD. Wragge will start his fourth game at center after taking over for struggling Jason Brown. If the Rams want to run the ball, Wragge will have to do a good job against Sopoaga. Wragge, one of the 49ers player representatives during the lockout, signed with the Rams as a free agent.

Reuben Foster does not wait long to show he can be special for 49ers

Reuben Foster does not wait long to show he can be special for 49ers

SANTA CLARA – There is something different about Reuben Foster.

It is similar to when Patrick Willis stepped on the practice field with the 49ers for training camp in 2007. He started out as a backup and had to earn his way onto the field.

All it took was two exhibition games. Brandon Moore was out of the starting lineup. Patrick Willis was in, and seven consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl followed.

Foster is not being handed a starting job with the 49ers. In fact, he faces a more difficult challenge to break into the starting lineup.

In front of Foster is veteran Malcolm Smith at the weakside linebacker spot. Eventually, Foster’s role in the 49ers’ defense will be the middle linebacker spot, where NaVorro Bowman is entrenched as the starter.

But it’s only a matter of time until Foster asserts himself as an every-down player.

Foster will have to earn his way into the starting lineup. He will have to earn respect with how he practices and plays. That was apparent on Thursday when Bowman was asked whether he watched Foster in college. Bowman gave a tepid review of Foster.

That’s understandable. After all, Foster had not practiced with the team until Friday. He was held out practices during the offseason program as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. It took Bowman a full year before he won his starting job. Bowman started one game as a rookie before establishing himself as a starter and an All-Pro performer the next season.

Bowman is not going to lavish praise on a player who had never made it through an NFL practice – even someone who was the most-accomplished collegiate player on the 49ers’ roster.

Foster received medical clearance on Wednesday to take part on Day 1 of practice when the 49ers opened training camp on Friday. It took almost no time for him to stand out.

Foster intercepted a pass from fellow rookie C.J. Beathard early in Friday’s practice. Then, quite a scene followed. Foster returned it into the end zone through a maze of players -- many of whom were standing behind the line of scrimmage and not even involved in the play.

In his three seasons at Alabama, Foster never intercepted a pass. He was known for his toughness and violent sideline-to-sideline tackling ability.

“It was good to get him out there, get him on the field,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I know he’s been chomping at the bit for a while now. It was good to see him go through it full speed, deal with getting aligned right and stuff. I think he got an interception out there today, which was good for him. It was a good first day.”

Foster could quickly turn into the most-exciting player on a team that is severely lacking in star quality. The 49ers targeted him early in the draft process as a player they wanted. Then, he had to check out physically and mentally for the team to determine when he was a person they wanted, too. When he visited the 49ers before the draft, general manager John Lynch became even more intrigued.

“He’s got an excitement that’s infectious,” Lynch said. “He’s an alpha dog. He wants to lead. He’s ready, he’s eager and we are certainly excited to watch him play.”

The 49ers did not believe his shoulder was a major issue. According to national reports, some teams removed him from their draft boards over concerns about his health. The 49ers would have taken him with the No. 3 pick in the draft if Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas were selected with the top two picks.

Concerns over Foster’s health and a diluted urine sample, which immediately places him into the NFL program for substances of abuse, were the only justifications for his tumble to the end of the first round. The 49ers found a trade partner in the Seattle Seahawks and took Foster with the No. 31 overall pick.

Some teams probably really did have serious concerns about his shoulder. And perhaps those concerns were justified. But, maybe, the teams that could have drafted him feel the need to cover their own backsides for passing on a player who has the look of a special player.

49ers sign top pick Solomon Thomas during first practice

49ers sign top pick Solomon Thomas during first practice

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers completed contract negotiations with their final unsigned draft pick as the team was going through warm-ups for the first practice of training camp.

Former Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, whom the 49ers selected with the No. 3 overall pick, signed Friday and was expected to join his teammates later in the day.

The sides agreed to the mandatory four-year contract worth more than $28 million, including a signing bonus of approximately $18.6 million. The deal is expected to be fully guaranteed.

The 49ers also have an option for the fifth season (2021) that must be exercised months after the 2019 season.

Thomas was unable to participate in full-squad workouts during the offseason due to Stanford’s late class schedule. NFL rules prohibit a rookie from attending the offseason program until his school’s classes have concluded for the spring session.

The 49ers – and the vast majority of NFL teams – have not had a contract stalemate with a rookie since the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011.

The organization had similar timing with a first-round pick from last year. Guard Joshua Garnett, also from Stanford, signed with the 49ers on the evening before players were scheduled to report to training camp.

Around the NFL, there has been only one notable contract disagreement that prevented a draft pick from reporting to camp in a timely fashion. Defensive lineman Joey Bosa, whom the Chargers selected with the No. 3 pick last year, sat out a month of training camp due to a disagreement over how his bonus would be distributed. Bosa and Thomas are both represented by the agent firm of Creative Artists Agency.