Browns' special-teams loss is 49ers' gain

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Browns' special-teams loss is 49ers' gain

The 49ers have improved dramatically on special teams from a year ago. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns have struggled mightily.Perhaps it's too simple to point to the fact that Brad Seely, who spent the previous two seasons with the Browns, is in his first year with the 49ers.Or maybe it's so simple because it's more than just a coincidence."It was instilled in the guys how important (special teams) is to the football team, and his attention to detail was just on point," said Josh Cribbs, who made trips to the Pro Bowl in both of Seely's two seasons with the Browns. "Even from their film now, we can look at the San Fran team and coach ourselves off them, because Seely is such a great coach."Special teams could play another important role Sunday at Candlestick Park when the 49ers (5-1) face the Browns (3-3).
Under Seely, the Browns were ranked among the best special-teams units in the NFL. But breakdowns on special teams have become commonplace for the Browns this season.The Browns had two field goals blocked last week in a 6-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks. One week earlier, the Raiders scored two touchdowns on special teams in a 24-17 win over the Browns. Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, and holder Shane Lechler threw a touchdown out of field-goal formation.Meanwhile, the 49ers have excelled behind kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee, return man Ted Ginn and the coverage units."I don't know that I've ever had that kind of combination," Seely said of his 22 years as a coach in the NFL.Ginn had late kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in the 49ers' 33-17 victory over the Seahawks in the opening game of the season. Lee is tied for the league lead with a 44.4 net average, and Akers has nailed two 55-yard field goals while converting 13 of 15 field-goal attempts.And Seely's impact isn't felt just on special teams. With the title of special teams coordinatorassistant head coach, Seely is often seen during games interacting on the sideline and discussing game situations with coach Jim Harbaugh."Phenomenal football coach, great teacher, technician all the way around," Harbaugh said of Seely. "Oh yeah, (I'm) leaning on him, like Abraham leaning on his staff."Seely coached special teams with the New England Patriots for 10 seasons, winning three Super Bowls along the way. When he went to the Browns with Eric Mangini, the Browns kept several players on the roster solely for special-teams contributions.One of those players was Blake Costanzo, whom the 49ers signed to a one-year contract during the first week of training camp. Costanzo ranks as the 49ers' top special-teams player."He's just a guy," Seely said. "But he has something else to him that's not measurable. On Sundays, he's a pretty good football player. He doesn't have great talent, but he does great things."Costanzo, C.J. Spillman, Tavares Gooden and Larry Grant are among the veteran players who make up the core special-teams units. Fullback Bruce Miller and tight end Delanie Walker play a lot on offense but they also have large roles on special teams."(He's) very detail-oriented," Costanzo said of Seely. "(He's) a great teacher, great motivator. It's hard to coach special teams because you've got offensive guys, defensive guys, to try to bring them all together and form a unit is pretty tough. He just does a great job of getting guys together and teaching them what to do. Everyone wants to go out there and play for him." Here are the statistical differences on special teams for the Browns and 49ers from last season. (Plus signs equate to improvements, minus signs signify declines.)
Net punting average
Browns 2010: 39.0
Browns 2011: 36.5 (-2.5)
49ers 2010: 38.2
49ers 2011: 44.4 (6.2)
Opponent net punting average
Browns 2010: 37.8
Browns 2011: 39.5 (-1.7)

49ers 2010: 37.4
49ers 2011: 35.8 (1.6)
Kickoff return average
Browns 2010: 17.0
Browns 2011: 24.0 (7)

49ers 2010: 19.5
49ers 2011: 30.9 (11.4)
Opponent kickoff return average
Browns 2010: 17.8
Browns 2011: 26.5 (-8.7)

49ers 2010: 22.2
49ers 2011: 21.3 (.9)
Field goals
Browns 2010: 23 of 28 (82.1 percent)
Browns 2011: 9 of 11 (81.8 percent)

49ers 2010: 22 of 27 (81.5 percent)
49ers 2011: 13 of 15 (86.7 percent)

49ers 'ecstatic' with first-day haul in the 2017 NFL Draft

49ers 'ecstatic' with first-day haul in the 2017 NFL Draft

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers began Thursday with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.

When his first day as 49ers general manager reached its conclusion, John Lynch had selected two of the three top players on his draft board and picked up additional third-round picks for this year and next year.

After Myles Garrett, the 49ers’ top-rated prospect, was the Cleveland Browns’ selection at No. 1 overall, the 49ers traded back one spot with the Chicago Bears. The 49ers still got their No. 2-rated prospect, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

The 49ers started making calls to teams with selections in the teens, according to coach Kyle Shanahan, to inquire about trading up for Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. The 49ers finally worked a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to move up three spots to No. 31.

All they gave up was a fourth-round pick acquired from the Bears earlier in the day.

“In terms of how we rated them, we got two of our top three players,” Lynch said. “We’re thrilled. We’re ecstatic. I think these guys have traits that encompass what we want to be about as a football organization.”

Lynch said he began speaking with Bears general manager Ryan Pace more than a week ago. Because the 49ers had picks scheduled next to the Bears in every round, Pace suggested to Lynch that the two teams should be willing to work with each other throughout the draft.

The 49ers had other offers for the No. 2 pick, Lynch said. A source told NBC Sports Bay Area just prior to the start of the draft that the 49ers had fielded three solid offers.

The team’s chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe worked out the details to finalize the trade with the Bears.

The 49ers did not know which player the Bears were targeting at No. 2, but Shanahan voiced his opinion while the trade was going down.

“This guy is a pretty bright,” Lynch said of Shanahan. “He said, ‘That’s not for a defensive lineman. That’s for a quarterback.’ And he was right.”

The Bears made the trade to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick. In order for the Bears to trade up one spot, they delivered the 49ers a third-round pick (No. 67), a fourth-round pick (No. 111) and a third-round pick next year.

Jacksonville executive Tom Coughlin, whose team held the No. 4 pick, watched and admired the 49ers' move from afar. 

"To get what you had in mind right off the bat and pick up those extra picks? Pretty nice deal," Coughlin told Jacksonville reporters. "I’ve never seen one of those. . . Oh, my gosh. Nothing like that has ever come my way.”

When asked if the 49ers would have selected Foster if the Bears selected Thomas, Lynch said, “Perhaps. It was very likely.”

Instead, the 49ers waited and waited and waited before finding a trade partner in an unlikely place. The 49ers made a deal with Seattle, giving up the 111th pick obtained from Chicago, to select Foster. The Saints had already told Foster he would be the pick one spot later.

“He’s my kind of player,” Lynch said of Foster. “He plays sideline to sideline, and he’ll hit anything that moves. I think that’s contagious for teammates.”

Foster is recovering from shoulder surgery and his stock was negatively affected by character concerns. He was sent home from the NFL scouting combine after an argument with a hospital worker during his medical check. He also had a positive drug test due to a diluted urine sample.

Lynch spent a lot of time with Foster during his visit to Santa Clara, as well as a meeting him at the combine. Both Lynch and Shanahan spoke regularly with Foster on the phone and on FaceTime in the past few weeks.

The 49ers also dispatched vice president of football affairs Keena Turner and team chaplain Earl Smith to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to meet with Foster for two days. The team will have a plan in place to help guide Foster as he transitions to professional football, Lynch said.

“I would tell you that his character is what drew us to him,” Lynch said. “When you start talking football with this young man, he lights up a room. He’s a good kid. I believe in the kid. I think he’ll be a great player for this organization for a long time.”

What we really learned from day one of the 2017 NFL Draft

What we really learned from day one of the 2017 NFL Draft

So after one day of the NFL Draft, we know the following:
 
1.        Roger Goodell could be booed on the surface of the sun, and if you don’t think so, let’s all agree to give that thesis a try.
 
2.        The Oakland Raiders have invested a lot in Gareon Conley’s word.
 
3.        John Lynch is either a swindler, or he was presented with a deal that only an idiot could refuse.
 
Let’s do Goodell first. He was booed lustily and often by the huge Philadelphia crowd, and though he would be booed anywhere (and he half-heartedly asked for more with a smile that looked more like a dog sticking his head out of a speeding car window), Philadelphia booing causes osteoporosis.
 
Next, we go to the Raiders, who used the 24th pick in the draft to take Conley, the secondary man from Ohio State who is being investigated for rape. Conley has maintained his innocence, putting out a statement denying all the accusations, and TMZ claims to have a video that calls into question the woman’s story. In other words, nobody can be sure of anything quite yet.
 
Except the Raiders seemed sure enough to take him, and general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team investigated him and the incident thoroughly. In short, given Mark Davis’ stated opposition to employing players involved in violence against women, McKenzie better be right, and close enough to right to assuage any misgivings Davis or the customer base might have.
 
As far as Conley the player, check back with us in at least two years.
 
Finally, there is Lynch, who squeezed (or was amazingly offered) three picks from Chicago Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace in exchange for one place in the draft. Pace, who was immediately described by Wikipedia as “the soon-to-be former general manager,” took North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, whom the 49ers had little interest in.
 
In other words, Lynch either pulled a fast one, or had a fast one handed to him. Either way, the 49ers got Solomon Thomas, the defensive lineman from Stanford they had long coveted, plus a third-round pick tomorrow, one next year and one in the fourth round that they helped spin into Reuben Foster, the Alabama linebacker who fell from much loftier draft positions apparently because of shoulder concerns.
 
In short, McKenzie got a much-needed secondary man who might end up being more trouble legally than he is worth athletically (though the level of doubt here is sufficient to jump to no conclusions quite yet), and Lynch won a reputation as the young Billy The Kid, smiling precociously while he robs you at gunpoint.
 
Time will tell whether he also gets to be called a great talent evaluator, but for the moment, don’t ask him to hold your wallet. That, kids, is the highest compliment a general manager can receive on the first night of his first NFL Draft.