Harbaugh's three options at quarterback


Harbaugh's three options at quarterback

Colin Kaepernick did his part Monday night to create a healthy quarterback debate. And coach Jim Harbaugh added a little fuel to the discussion when he refused to say those words he had said so many times when there was even a sliver of doubt.But Harbaugh did not say, "Alex is our guy." And that is important to note.So now there's an honest-to-goodness quarterback decision that faces Harbaugh and his coaching staff. There was no debate until Monday night. But Kaepernick's exceptional play forced the issue.And, right now, there can be no quarterback controversy until there are two healthy quarterbacks. Alex Smith must first be medically cleared to play before there's any true debate within the 49ers' coaching ranks.Smith was cleared to practice last week. And he went through multiple normal days of practices until, apparently, some concussion symptoms presented themselves over the weekend.Kaepernick did not get the full week of practice, as would be expected for any starting quarterback. But he made it a moot point. Kaepernick was outstanding in the 49ers' 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.Here are the three options Harbaugh must consider:This week, Kaepernick starts: This is the equivalent of deferring the real decision until a later date.In order to give the 49ers' starting quarterback all the reps during a week of practice to face a surging Saints team, Harbaugh could declare that Kaepernick will start Sunday against the Saints. This decision would be made because of the uncertainty of Smith's condition."It looks like he will be (cleared) before the week is out," Harbaugh said Wednesday morning on KNBR's Murph and Mac Show. "But not as of now. I'm sure he will be."Harbaugh could take the stance that he does not want to get stuck in a situation similar to last week. It would prevent the possibility of Smith taking the majority of the practice time and then not being well enough to play. If Smith experiences any symptoms after the flight to New Orleans, he would not receive final clearance to play against the Saints.If the 49ers declare Kaepernick as the starter for this game only, it would give the team another sample from which to base their ultimate decision of which quarterback starts Dec. 2 at St. Louis . . . and for the remainder of the season.Long term, Smith starts: With Harbaugh's statement that he usually goes with the "hot hand," it's easy to forget just how hot Smith was before he exited the 49ers lineup Nov. 11 with a concussion.In his past two games, Smith completed 25 of 27 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 153.2. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his Oct. 29 performance against the Arizona Cardinals.The 49ers are 20-6 since the beginning of 2011 in games in which Smith started (not including the tie against the St. Louis Rams).Smith won the job convincingly in the offseason. And he is having far-and-away the best season statistically of his career. Smith's passer rating of 104.1 ranks third in the league behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He leads the NFL with a 70.0 completion percentage.Long term, Kaepernick starts: He made throws Monday night that Smith would not even attempt. Not only did Kaepernick throw those passes, he delivered them on the money -- repeatedly. The offense did not stall early. It looked explosive and impressive.Kaepernick pushed the ball down the field. He got tight end Vernon Davis involved from the beginning of the game. And he made a fourth-quarter throw to Davis between two defenders that Davis said looked like something he would see from Tom Brady.Kaepernick also seemed to have a very good handle on all of his responsibilities at the line of scrimmage. Harbaugh said after the game he could think of only one pre-snap misread. Kaepernick seemed to regularly get the 49ers into plays -- run and pass -- that were successful against what he saw from the Bears' defense.The 49ers' practices have been closed to the media since midway through the exhibition season. Up to that point, Kaepernick did not demonstrate the kind of accuracy one would expect from a starter.But, clearly, Kaepernick has gained a better understanding of the offensive system. It looked as if the game was coming easy to him Monday night. If he's more comfortable, it is going to be reflected in the accuracy of his throws.If Kaepernick has been practicing like he played Monday night, then this could be the long-term call for the 49ers' coaching staff.

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.”