Film review: Culliver ready to pounce on starting job


Film review: Culliver ready to pounce on starting job

Cornerback Tarell Brown sat out last Wednesday's practice due to a slight hamstring ailment. He returned to practice the next day, and was available for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

It was a wise move.

Jim Harbaugh has been reluctant to make lineup changes in two seasons as 49ers coach. Guard Chilo Rachal is the only player benched due solely to poor play.

But Harbaugh has made several changes after injuries. And quarterback Alex Smith does not stand alone.

Bruce Miller took over at fullback for veteran Moran Norris due to an injury last season and he held onto the job. Shawntae Spencer lost his starting job and then his role as the No. 3 cornerback due to an injuries. Tramaine Brock, who opened last season as the No. 3 cornerback, sustained an injury that opened the door for Chris Culliver, who has remained in that role.

And, now, Culliver is playing at a starter's level. If Brown or Carlos Rogers ever exit the lineup, Culliver would have a chance to take over -- and then hold onto -- a starting job.

Rogers got off to a slow start Sunday against the Dolphins with an apparent miscommunication on Miami's second play of the game that resulted in a game-long 28-yard pass play.

Rogers and Brown have started every game for a defense that No. 2 in the NFL against the pass. And both had solid showings Sunday in a defensive effort that held rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill to 17-of-33 passing for 150 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

But Culliver, who played 70 percent of the snaps as the 49ers' third cornerback, had another outstanding game. He was targeted four times and did not allow a catch, according to Pro Football Focus. He had the defensive play of the game when he hung in the air long enough to deflect Tannehill's deep throw to Brian Hartline in the end zone. Culliver's 42.9 completion percentage allowed this season ranks as the best in the NFL, according to PFF.

Other observations from the 49ers' 27-13 victory over Miami:

--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who has quickly risen to the short list of NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates, had four quarterback hurries to go along with his two sacks.

--Neither of Aldon Smith's sacks was a direct result of any help from Justin Smith, who was busy causing all kinds of problems of his own for the Dolphins. Justin Smith was particularly impressive at the start of the second half when he batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on second down and then destroyed guard Richie Incognito to pressure Tannehill into a third-down incomplete pass.

--Safety Dashon Goldson did not have a strong game, as he overran a couple of would-be tackles. He took a bad angle and allowed Tannehill to get past him for a 20-yard scramble in the fourth quarter. He also got flattened by center Mike Pouncey on a 9-yard gain by Reggie Bush. Goldson's best play was in coverage against Bush on a deep right along the left sideline.

--Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, fined $10,000 last week for unnecessary roughness, could be looking at another fine this week for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Tannehill in the fourth quarter. It drew a 15-yard penalty.

--The 49ers' only touchdown allowed came on a play in which tight end Anthony Fasano made a highlight-reel one-handed diving catch against the sideline in the end zone. It's difficult to fault the coverage of safety Donte Whitner on that one.

--On offense, the 49ers featured a lot of balanced offensive formations with Colin Kaepernick in the pistol along with three backs.

"We thought in this particular game, that it was a way for us to get a hat on a hat," Harbaugh said. "A way to balance off Miami's defense and what they had shown to do. Because it is a balanced formation, it allows you to go in any direction and throw the ball. It was a good, basic, base formation for us in this game."

The 49ers used it on the first play of the game to hit Delanie Walker on a 20-yard reception.

--Kaepernick had only two pass plays for 20 yards or more. The pass to Walker traveled 17 yards in the air, and a 25-yard gain to Michael Crabtree included 7 yards after the catch.

--The only pass Kaepernick has thrown the past two weeks at least 20 yards in the air, according to PFF, was the flea-flicker to Randy Moss. The ball was perfectly thrown, but Moss seemed to have very little chance of making the one-handed catch with cornerback R.J. Stanford grabbing Moss' right arm.

--Kaepernick was 18 of 23 for 185 yards. His five incompletions consisted of: 1) A bullet off Vernon Davis' hands at the left sideline against good coverage. The throw was high and wide and too hot for Davis to handle; 2) A high-and-outside throw toward the right pylon to Crabtree that, if accurate, likely would've been a 20-yard touchdown pass; 3) A wise throwaway at the end of the first half to allow David Akers time to kick a 37-yard field goal; 4) The deep throw to Moss, which could've been a 47-yard TD; and 5) A quasi-throwaway just before running out of bounds on a roll to his left late in the third quarter.

--Crabtree was targeted 10 times and caught nine passes. Fifty of his 93 receiving yards came after the catch.

--Left tackle Joe Staley graded out with a strong performance, according to PFF. He surrendered one sack but did not allow any other pressures. According to PFF's rating system, Staley has not had a negative grade in any game this season.

--Running back Frank Gore looked fresh and routinely made Dolphins defenders miss. His used an exceptional jump-cut to peel off a 19-yard gain late in the third quarter. Due in large part to Miami's focus on Gore, Kaepernick was able to keep the ball on a zone read play in the fourth quarter for a 50-yard, game-clinching touchdown.

--On the first play of the fourth quarter, Gore ran 19 yards on a draw play to the 1-yard line. Guard Alex Boone made a strong block on defensive tackle Paul Soliai and rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins had a block against safety Chris Clemons.

--On the next play, extra blocker Daniel Kilgore absolutely mauled defensive end Olivier Vernon and Miller took care of safety Reshad Jones on Anthony Dixon's 1-yard touchdown run.

Free-agent Mitchell scheduled to meet with 49ers


Free-agent Mitchell scheduled to meet with 49ers

Veteran free-agent defensive tackle Earl Mitchell is scheduled to travel to the Bay Area on Tuesday evening and spend most of Wednesday with 49ers officials and coaches.

The 49ers will be Mitchell’s second visit on a four-city free-agent tour, a source told

Mitchell is scheduled to visit with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday before traveling to the Bay Area. After meeting with the 49ers, Mitchell is set to fly to Denver, where he will meet with the Broncos on Wednesday evening and Thursday. Then, he will travel to Atlanta to visit with Falcons officials and coaches Thursday evening and Friday.

Mitchell became a free agent last week when the Miami Dolphins cut him to avoid paying his scheduled $4.5 million salary for the 2017 season. The move saved Miami $4 million in cap space.

Mitchell (6 foot 3, 310 pounds) is a seven-year veteran who could fit into the 49ers’ new 4-3 defense under new coordinator Robert Saleh. Mitchell played the first four seasons of his NFL career in Houston, where Saleh was a defensive quality control coach during Mitchell’s rookie season.

Mitchell appeared in just nine games last season for the Dolphins after serving a stint on injured reserve early in the season with a calf injury. He has appeared in 100 games in his career with 38 starts.

Comings and goings: 49ers coaching staff

Comings and goings: 49ers coaching staff

First-year coach Kyle Shanahan is close to completing his 49ers coaching staff.

Shanahan will handle the duties of the offensive coordinator, the position he held with Houston, Washington and Atlanta over the past nine NFL seasons.

Robert Saleh is the 49ers' new defensive coordinator, while Richard Hightower has been hired as the special-teams coordiator.

Here's a look at the 49ers' coaching staffs under Shanahan and last season under Chip Kelly:

Position: Coach (2016 job)
Head coach: Kyle Shanahan (Falcons, offensive coordinator)
Defensive coordinator: Robert Saleh (Jaguars, linebackers coach)
Special teams coordinator: Richard Hightower (Bears, assistant special teams)
Assistant head coach/tight ends: Jon Embree (Buccaneers, tight ends)
Run game specialist: Mike McDaniel (Falcons, offensive assistant)
Quarterbacks: Rich Scangarello (Wagner, offensive coordinator)
Running backs: Bobby Turner (Falcons, running backs)
Wide receivers: Mike LaFleur (Falcons, offensive assistant)
Offensive line: Vacant
Offensive assistant: T.C. McCartney (LSU, offensive assistant)
Senior defensive assistant: Jason Tarver (49ers, outside linebackers)
Defensive line: Jeff Zgonina (N.Y. Giants, assistant defensive line)
Linebackers: Johnny Holland (Browns, inside linebackers)
Defensive backs: Jeff Hafley (49ers, defensive backs)
Offensive quality control: Taylor Embree (Chiefs, defensive assistant)
Defensive quality control: Bobby Slowik
Head strength and conditioning: Ray Wright

* * *

Position: Coach (current status)
Head coach: Chip Kelly
Offensive coordinator: Curtis Modkins (Bears, running backs)
Defensive coordinator: Jim O’Neil
Special teams coordinator: Derius Swinton
Quarterbacks: Ryan Day (Ohio State, quarterbacks)
Running backs: Tom Rathman
Wide receivers: Bob Bicknell
Tight ends: Jeff Nixon (Baylor, co-offensive coordinator/running backs)
Offensive line: Pat Flaherty (Jaguars, offensive line)
Assistant offensive line: Eric Wolford (South Carolina, offensive line)
Defensive line: Jerry Azzinaro (Cal, defensive line)
Assistant defensive line: Vince Oghobaase
Outside linebackers: Jason Tarver (49ers, senior defensive assistant)
Inside linebacker: Joe Bowden
Defensive backs: Jeff Hafley (49ers, defensive backs)
Assistant defensive backs: Roy Anderson (Bears, assistant secondary)
Assistant special teams: Michael Clay
Offensive quality control: Mick Lombardi (Jets, offensive assistant/assistant QBs coach)
Defensive quality control: Tem Lukabu
Senior analyst: Dana Bible
Director of human performance: Mark Uyeyama