Aldon Smith works to expand versatility


Aldon Smith works to expand versatility

Over the past week, we started taking a look at the offseasons of the 49ers position groups. Now, it starts to get a little more difficult because of the nature of the practices.Players are not allowed to wear pads, and no contact is allowed. So good luck trying to evaluate linebackers, defensive linemen and offensive linemen under those restrictions. But that won't stop us from trying. . .
The 49ers made it simple last season for rookie Aldon Smith, the team's first-round draft pick. Although listed as an outside linebacker, Smith rarely played the position. He entered at right defensive end in passing situations, and his job was to work with Justin Smith to get to the quarterback.Few did it better than Smith, who tied for fifth in the NFL with 14 sacks. Things will get a bit more complex in his second year. Smith is slated to replace Parys Haralson at right outside linebacker. He will not be one-dimensional this season, as a big part of his game will be setting the edge in the run game.As far as his duties against the pass, one sequence during the final day of the mandatory minicamp might have offered a glimpse of what to expect.During a coverage drill, Smith got completely turned around while attempting to cover rookie tight end Garrett Celek. Smith ended up trailing Celek by at least 5 yards, as Celek caught the pass down the field from Colin Kaepernick.Then, a short time later during an 11-on-11 session, Smith showed his quickness to take an outside route to get around left tackle Joe Staley for a would-be sack of Josh Johnson.Bottom line: Smith is the 49ers' best pure pass rusher. Do no expect to see him in coverage very often as he transitions into a full-time role.The 49ers two All-Pro inside linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman did not participate in the final days of the offseason program. Willis went home to Tennessee due to an illness in his family. Bowman remained with his girlfriend on the East Coast as the couple expected the birth of twins.Ahmad Brooks parlayed his first year as a starter (in six NFL seasons) into a handsome six-year, 37 million contract extension. Brooks played 93 percent of all 49ers defensive snaps last season. In the past, Brooks had a tendency to get out of shape during the offseason. But he took part in the full offseason program, and appeared to put himself in position to have a big-time season.Haralson, who has 68 career starts, enters training camp as the top backup at the outside linebacker positions after Aldon Smith takes over as the starter on the right side. It does not appear as if Haralson's scheduled 2.75 million salary is a concern at this point.The 49ers selected two outside linebackers in the draft to supply the team with some depth. However, Darius Fleming, a fifth-round pick from Notre Dame sustained a torn ACL and likely out for the season. And Cam Johnson, a seventh-round selection from Virginia, missed most of the offseason program. Coach Jim Harbaugh said he underwent a clean-out procedure, presumably to improve a knee condition that plagued him in college. Johnson is expected to be ready for camp.Larry Grant did not attract any attention from other clubs as a restricted free agent. He signed his one-year, 1.2 million contract and returns as the 49ers' primary backup at inside linebacker. Shortly after Willis left practice during the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp, Grant stripped tight end Nate Byham and broke up a pass intended for Vernon Davis in a 7-on-7 drill.Veteran Tavares Gooden stepped into action with the first team, alongside Grant, with the absences of Bowman and Willis. Michael Wilhoite, who spent the last month of the season on the practice squad, saw a lot of action, too. Undrafted Joe Holland (Purdue) sat out the final few practices with a right foot injury.On the outside, Eric Bakhtiari, who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, put himself in position to compete for a roster spot. It'll likely come down to whether special-teams coordinator Brad Seely envisions him as a core contributor in that phase of the game. Undrafted rookie Kourtnei Brown, a 6-foot-6, 255-pounder, looks the part but never was a major contributor during his four seasons at Clemson.

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”