Backups lead the way for 49ers

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Backups lead the way for 49ers

CINCINNATI -- The 49ers won a rare road game Sunday that wasn't exactly an aesthetic masterpiece. But a win is a win. And they did it with their supporting cast playing a significant role."Nobody," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said, "is going in the game with their head down saying, 'Oh, man, I'm not a starter.' All it takes is one play, and you have to be out there and your teammates and the coaches expect you to play to the standards of a starter."And that's what happened in the 49ers' 13-8 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.Receiver Braylon Edwards and fullback Moran Norris are going to be out of the 49ers' lineup for a while. They didn't even suit up for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals due to injuries.
Whitner was lost on the opening series of the game with a hip contusion. Unofficially, he is questionable for next week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.The same goes for running back Frank Gore. He sustained a right ankle sprain in the second quarter. He equaled his season average of 2.5 yards a carry, while also fumbling away a key fourth-quarter possession.Starting right guard Chilo Rachal played so poorly that he was benched for the second half of the game.For most of the past decade, the 49ers had nobody to step up when backups were needed. But Sunday was a different story. The 49ers actually won a road game against a non-division opponent and they did it with a handful of backups playing key roles."That's the nature of the NFL," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "You don't go through a 16-game season with the same 11 guys. You got to have depth. Guys have to be ready to step in and play, and play well. You can't have a fall off. A lot of times, that's the difference between good teams and bad teams."It's been a while since the 49ers have been a good team. The 49ers have not compiled a winning record since 2002. The 49ers' win was unique in many ways. It was the organization's fifth non-division road victory since 2003.Moreover, it was the first 13-8 game in the history of the NFL. And as a result of their ugly win with the ugly score, the 49ers find themselves all alone atop the NFC West with a 2-1 record.And it was all because of the backups."You have to be ready in the National Football League. Every guy is one play away from being a starter," Whitner said. "That has to be the mindset during the week of practice and that has to be the mindset going into the football game."The 49ers got strong performances from several players who were pressed into key roles:Running back Kendall Hunter: His numbers -- nine carries, 26 yards -- were not spectacular. But Hunter accounted for the only touchdown in the game after taking over for ineffective and injured Gore in the fourth quarter.Harbaugh said the change was made because Gore sustained an ankle injury. The switch coincided with Gore's fumble that led to the go-ahead Bengals points in the fourth quarter."I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunity to get in there and help my team out," Hunter said. "It felt good to be out there and help my team win."Hunter played just three snaps in the first half. But he played 18 offensive plays, compared to Gore's 17 plays, in the second half."Kendall was in the ball game within the first seven or eight plays of the game," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He was getting more snaps later in the game in response to Frank's ankle."Right guard Adam Snyder: Snyder played most of the second half, replacing Rachal, who had a miserable first half. Rachal was porous in pass protection and was called for two holding penalties and a false start. Snyder entered the game, and he stands a strong chance at remaining in the starting lineup permanently.Nickel safety Reggie Smith: With the return of Dashon Goldson as a starter, Smith had no role on defense. But when Whitner was sidelined with a hip injury, Smith came onto the field for nickel situations.Smith made a phenomenal play when he made a diving interception off the artificial turf with 1:45 remaining in the game at the 49ers' 25-yard line. The play all but clinched the victory. Veteran Madieu Williams played safety on base downs as Whitner's replacement and he performed well, too."Reggie came up with a big play at the end," Whitner said. "Madieu made some really big plays. That's what you have to do. To be a good football team, you have to have depth. And I think we showed that today."Said Reggie Smith, "You got to be ready for whenever your number is called."Fullback Bruce Miller: He did not see a snap on offense in his first two NFL games, but he started Sunday in place of Norris. On his first NFL play from scrimmage Miller caught an 11-yard pass. He finished the game with four receptions for 25 yards.Several other players had roles for the first time this season. Dashon Goldson made his first start after missing the first two games with a knee injury. He recorded eight tackles. Veteran Shawntae Spencer was the third cornerback, and he broke up a pass and performed well, too.

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.

Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.

“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”

Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.

The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.

“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.

“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”

After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.

As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.

“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”

 

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.

Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.

Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.

“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).

“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”

Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.

Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.

Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.

Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.

There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.

“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”

Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.

“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.

“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”

Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.

“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.

“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”

The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.

Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.

“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.

“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”

During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.

“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”

Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.

Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’

“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”