Backups take spotlight in 49ers' exhibition finale


Backups take spotlight in 49ers' exhibition finale


SAN FRANCISCO -- Jim Harbaugh said he did not need the reassurance of seeing what he saw Thursday night from his backup quarterback.But the fact Colin Kaepernick looked in complete control in the 49ers' 35-3 victory over the San Diego Chargers carried a little more weight than a typical exhibition finale."Knowing was against their starters makes you feel a little better about it," Kaepernick said.The 49ers scored touchdowns on the Chargers' starters on the first two possessions of the game, including Kaepernick's 32-yard scoring pass to tight end Delanie Walker.Kaepernick demonstrated his tremendous arm strength when he rolled left and hit Walker along the left sideline. Walker broke a tackle attempt from strong safety Atari Bigby to get into the end zone.In the second quarter, Kaepernick hit A.J. Jenkins on a 12-yard touchdown pass after buying time with a roll to his right.Kaepernick completed 12 of 18 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 131.2."Tonight, I felt like I went out and just played," Kaepernick said. "This preseason I felt more and more like that. Tonight was the first time I really got to go out and cut it loose and see what plays I could make."Quarterback Alex Smith took the first five snaps of the game -- all handoffs -- before handing off to Kaepernick. Smith is firmly entrenched as the starter, and Kaepernick showed there's reason to have confidence in his ability as the undisputed backup."That's not a new feeling," Harbaugh said. "It's something we've been comfortable with now for months, the course of this whole offseason. All of our quarterbacks. We feel like all four can play in this league for a long time."Josh Johnson, in a battle with Scott Tolzien for the No. 3 job, enjoyed his best performance of the exhibition season. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 132.4.Undrafted rookies Nathan Palmer and Garrett Celek scored on Johnson's touchdown passes of 51 and 3 yards. Palmer took a quick hitch and outran the Chargers' defense for his third-quarter touchdown.Meanwhile, Tolzien completed just 3 of 8 attempts for 42 yards and an interception.When asked if it's possible the 49ers could keep all four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster to open the season, Harbaugh answered, "Yes, it's an option."General manager Trent Baalke will have to make that call by Friday, 6 p.m., the NFL deadline for teams to trim rosters from 75 players to 53.The 49ers relied on their backups Thursday, and as a result should be near full strength for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at Green Bay. The 49ers did not play any of their defensive starters. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who has not played since sustaining a right hip bruise in the first exhibition game, could have played, Harbaugh said.Running back Frank Gore did not play, and the team held out wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Kyle Williams, along with Ted Ginn (ankle) and Mario Manningham, who attended his grandfather's funeral.The backups -- offensively and defensively -- stepped up. And Harbaugh said the decisions on the 53-man roster will be even more difficult based on the performance of players up and down the roster on Thursday:--Will Tukuafu started at left defensive tackle. He also played fullback on seven of the 49ers' snaps on their 11-play opening drive. He cleared the way for Anthony Dixon on a 1-yard touchdown run, which Harbaugh called "probably one of the best isolation blocks I've seen at the goal line."--Linebacker Michael Wilhoite saw his first action on offense, as he played several snaps in the second half at fullback. He also had two tackles on defense. "He's physical," Harbaugh said. "He has athleticism to adjust in tight spaces. He's smart, plays low, plays quick. He hasn't has as much training as Will but he's capable of doing that."--Safeties C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson and Darcel McBath combined end the Chargers' first two drives of the games with turnovers. San Diego's first-team offense played two possessions. Spillman stripped tight end Antonio Gates of the ball after a 13-yard reception. Robinson scooped up the fumble and returned it 22 yards. McBath entered as an extra defensive back for his first snap of the game and he intercepted a Rivers pass intended for Malcom Floyd.--Jenkins led the 49ers with four receptions for 59 yards, including his 12-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick. "It's a real good thing to get in a rhythm and just playing ball like I was in college," he said. "I was having a great time."--After the 49ers waived third- and fourth-string centers Chase Beeler and Jason Slowey this week, they started working guard Joe Looney at center. Looney entered the game at left guard, and moved to center in the second half. He had not played center since his sophomore year of high school, he said.--Running back LaMichael James had an up-and-down day. He carried five times for 27 yards and averaged 30.0 yards on two kickoff returns. But he lost his fight to the Candlestick winds while attempting to return punts. He bobbled one punt and muffed two others. He recovered both of his fumbles.

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.”