49ers-Saints: Matchups to watch

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49ers-Saints: Matchups to watch

SAN FRANCISCO -- Linebacker Patrick Willis is the recognized star of the 49ers' defense.And he will have to play like one of the NFL's truly elite players on Saturday if the 49ers hope to slow down the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense.The Saints have a lot of options on offense, and Willis figures to be in the middle of the action throughout Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park.The 49ers boast the faster pair of inside linebackers in the league with first-team All-Pro selections Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Those players will have to utilize their sideline-to-sideline range to keep speedy running back Darren Sproles contained.
In the regular season, Sproles carried the ball 87 times. He caught 86 passes. Every time he touched the ball, he averaged 7.6 yards. So Willis and Bowman will be busy in their quest to keep Sproles under wraps.But Willis will have equal responsibility in the passing game. And that leads us to the biggest matchup on this game . . . Tale of the tape
49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52): 6-1, 240, Mississippi, fifth season
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80): 6-7, 265, Miami (Fla.), second seasonWillis is the 49ers' best linebacker in coverage, and he is certain to see a lot of Graham -- the best pass-catching tight end in the NFC with 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in the regular season.Sure, the 49ers will mix up their coverages. And the Saints will split Graham wide on occasion, which will likely dictate matchups against the 49ers cornerbacks. But the 49ers would feel just fine assigning Willis to match up with Graham for the bulk of the game."He's a big part part of their offense, and his size and speed and range and his catching ability is a tough assignment for anybody," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "But that's what it is this time of year. You're going against great teams, great players. Somebody's going to have to man up and cover somebody at some point."Earlier in the season, the 49ers assigned Willis to Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew. In that game, Pettigrew caught eight passes but averaged just 5.3 yards per reception. Graham is bigger than Willis, so Willis will undoubtedly try to get physical with Graham near the line of scrimmage to re-route him and disrupt the timing with Brees.
"They (the Saints) move this guy around more," Fangio said. "He'll be looking like a receiver a lot of times. So it's a little bit more challenging in that area."Willis is completely healthy after missing three games with a hamstring strain. He returned for the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams and, admittedly, did not play well."I feel like these last two weeks of getting back out here, practicing, running and doing football again has really helped me," Willis said. "I'm really looking forward to this game this weekend and getting back on track."And his assignment can get no more difficult than going up against an offense that features quarterback Drew Brees distributing the ball to some of the top play-makers in the game."I feel like Jimmy Graham is a good tight end," Willis said. "All this year, we've faced some good tight ends with the teams we've played. He's certainly one of their offensive threats and we have to make sure that we know where he is at all times. At the end of the day we just have to play defense." Other matchups worth watching49ers RB Frank Gore (21) vs. Saints SS Roman Harper (41): As important as Willis is to the 49ers' defense, Gore will be that man on offense. And, like Willis, Gore will have big responsibilities on two different levels. First, Gore must be spot-on with his blitz pickup assignments. The 49ers have to provide quarterback Alex Smith with time to throw, and the Saints lack great one-on-one pass-rushers. Harper is New Orleans' leading sack artist. He recorded 7.5 sacks, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will try to devise different ways to provide a clear path for him to the quarterback. Gore will be the last line of protection for Smith in the 49ers' backfield. But, also, Gore will come head-to-head with Harper when he has the ball in his hands. The 49ers want to get their rushing attack going against the 12th-ranked run defense. The 49ers envision to giving Gore, who is rested and ready for his first NFL postseason, a lot of carries. The 49ers hope to control the clock to keep Brees and the Saints offense off the field. Harper is the Saints' leading tackler, so he's equally important in run support -- going head-to-head against Gore.49ers DE Aldon Smith (99) vs. Saints LT Jermon Bushrod: The 49ers recorded 42 sacks this season without relying much on blitzes. That will be one of the keys in this game, as the 49ers hope to put pressure on Brees without weakening their coverage on the back end. Smith led the 49ers with 14 sacks as a rookie. And he'll be matched for most of the game against Bushrod, who surrendered just three sacks in 16 games. "He uses his quarterback around him and he's not going to be the reason Drew Brees gets sacked," Smith said. "It's challenging. Even if you do get pressure, he might find somebody open as soon as you get there. You can't let that deter you from what you want to do need to do, keep after him and keep attacking and eventually you'll get to him." Brees was sacked once every 28.4 drop-backs during the regular season.

49ers release Coffee after reinstating RB off retired list

49ers release Coffee after reinstating RB off retired list

Running back Glen Coffee, who walked away from the 49ers during training camp before his second NFL season, was reinstated Friday off the reserve-retired list.

As part of the same transaction wire released by the NFL office, the 49ers released Coffee, making him a free agent.

After seven seasons away from the game, Coffee is attempting a comeback, his agent told on Saturday.

“I can tell you, he’s in great shape,” agent Ray Oubre said. “The man doesn’t have a six-pack, he’s got a 12-pack. He’s been waiting for the right time to hopefully get a workout with someone and show what he can do.

“He had a calling, and right now he feels like it’s his time to show what he can do. He explained to me, ‘I can do things now that I couldn’t do when I was initially with the 49ers.’ That’s the kind of shape he’s in.”

Coffee, who turns 30 on May 1, was a third-round draft pick (No. 74 overall) of the 49ers in 2009. He was the sixth running back selected in that year's draft. Coffee appeared in 14 games as a rookie and carried 83 times for 226 yards and one touchdown. He also caught 11 passes for 78 yards.

During training camp the next year as his teammates were exiting the locker room for the practice field in August 2010, Coffee cut the tape from his shoes and left the team's Santa Clara practice facility. He later informed then-coach Mike Singletary of his decision to stop playing football. Coffee said he believed God had a bigger plan for him.

Coffee was a specialist in the Sixth Battalion of the Army Rangers after enlisting in 2013. He is no longer active, Oubre said.

“He’s been training several months,” Oubre said. “The rigors of the Army Rangers, he was already in shape. He’s taking it to another level now. He’s been training for more than four months.

“He feels like he served and now the time is right. He’s in a good place. He understands, you can’t play football forever and you can’t do any one thing forever. He’s in a place right now that he wants to use his God-given ability as a football player.”

Coffee turned pro after his junior season at Alabama. In his final college season, Coffee rushed for 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Coffee has been training under Johnny Jackson at JDPI Sports Performance in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Oubre said he will be in contact with all 32 NFL teams to see if there’s any interest in bringing in Coffee for workouts. He might also hold an open workout for any interested teams.

Sponsored by Harbaugh, Kap named one of Top 100 most influential people

Sponsored by Harbaugh, Kap named one of Top 100 most influential people

Former 49ers quarterback and current free agent Colin Kaepernick has been named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People on Thursday. 

Each person named to the list is represented by a sponsor who then writes on why they are worthy of the honor. For Kaepernick, his former coach Jim Harbaugh wrote on him. 

Harbaugh coached Kaepernick for four seasons from 2011-2014. The two reached the Super Bowl together in the 2012 season. 

Other sports figures named to the list include Conor McGregor, Theo Epstein, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Simone Biles, and Neymar.

Kaepernick made national headlines this past season for his decision to first sit and then kneel during the national anthem as a fight against social injustices. 

Below is what Harbaugh wrote on Kaepernick's influence: 

Colin Kaepernick was alone in his early protests last year when he boldly and courageously confronted perceived inequalities in our social-justice system by refusing to stand for the national anthem. At times in our nation's history, we have been all too quick to judge and oppose our fellow Americans for exercising their First Amendment right to address things they believe unjust.

Rather than besmirch their character, we must celebrate their act. For we cannot pioneer and invent if we are fearful of deviating from the norm, damaging our public perception or—most important—harming our own personal interests.

I thank Colin for all he has contributed to the game of football as an outstanding player and trusted teammate. I also applaud Colin for the courage he has demonstrated in exercising his guaranteed right of free speech. His willingness to take a position at personal cost is now part of our American story.

How lucky for us all and for our country to have among our citizens someone as remarkable as Colin Kaepernick.