Have 49ers improved? Analyzing defense, special teams

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Have 49ers improved? Analyzing defense, special teams

Jim Harbaugh has several go-to inspirational sayings.And one of them greets players as they walk from the locker room to the practice field at the 49ers' Santa Clara workout facility. (And I noticed last week that it's plastered along a fence on the Stanford practice field, too.)You are getting better or you are getting worse. You never stay the same.With that in mind, let's take a look at whether the 49ers have improved, position-by-position, with their pre-draft moves.First, we'll look at special teams and defense:Special teams: It was important for the 49ers to bring back return man Ted Ginn and C.J. Spillman, their best player on the coverage teams from a year ago. Free-agent pickup Rock Cartwright replaces Blake Costanzo as a core special-teams player. It's difficult to imagine that 37-year-old kicker David Akers can be as good as he was a year ago, but the 49ers are hoping to settle for fewer field goals, too.
Bottom line: Slight dip because the bar was set so high.Defensive line: Everybody is back from a year ago. It's easy to make an argument that Justin Smith was the most valuable defensive player in the league. And nobody on the team works harder than Smith. He transitioned immediately from the end of last season into beginning his preparations for 2012. He enters his 12th season, and he has to start slowing down at some point. Right? Ray McDonald is entering his prime, and Isaac Sopoaga should be able to duplicate what he did last season at nose tackle. The 49ers did not get much from the backups last season. There should be improvements there. Some combination of Ricky Jean Francois, Demarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams and Will Tukuafu should win the confidence of the coaching staff to find spots in the rotation, thus ultimately making the starters more effective.
Bottom line: Slight improvement.Outside linebackers: General manager Trent Baalke made it clear that the 49ers expect Aldon Smith to be an every-down player in 2012. He played just 48.2 percent of the defensive snaps a year ago. That means Parys Haralson, who played almost exclusively in base downs last season, is currently a backup. Ahmad Brooks returns as an every-down player on the other side. He was hungry last year in a contract year. Now, that he has signed multi-year contract, he has to play with the same urgency. It's a good sign that he's hanging around the Bay Area and working out at the team's practice facility.
Bottom line: This could be an instance where the 49ers take a small step back to move forward, as ultra-talented Aldon Smith will be learning to be an every-down player.Inside linebackers: Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were first-team All-Pros last season. Willis enters his sixth year, and is entering his prime. Bowman had a breakout season. Top backup Larry Grant is unsigned as he remains available on the market as a restricted free agent. Bottom line: Yes, Willis and Bowman will be even better as the starters, but depth is a question.Cornerbacks: Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are back as the starters, with Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock as the backups. It's difficult to believe that Rogers, as an eighth-year player, can be much better than he was a year ago. But Brown, Culliver and Brock should improve with a full offseason of work.
Bottom line: Improvement.Safeties: Free safety Dashon Goldson was tagged as the franchise player, and strong safety Donte Whitner is back for his second season. Behind the starters, the 49ers have nobody who played a down from scrimmage. Reggie Smith is testing the free-agent market, and the team has not placed a high priority on re-signing veteran Madieu Williams.
Bottom line: Slight dip, based on current lack of depth.

Shanahan delegates offensive duties to 49ers staff

Shanahan delegates offensive duties to 49ers staff

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan will retain the role he held the past nine seasons in his first year as head coach of the 49ers.

Shanahan eschewed the formality of naming an offensive coordinator because he will keep those duties for himself. Still, Shanahan made it clear that he alone will not be able to fix the 49ers’ offense.

Shanahan has assembled a supporting cast that he said makes him comfortable to delegate responsibilities whenever his attention has to be focused on something other than the team’s offense.

“I mix it up,” said Shanahan, who previously held offensive coordinator roles with Houston, Washington, Cleveland and Atlanta. “Different guys have different attributes.”

Mike McDaniel and Mike LaFleur joined Shanahan after time together on the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive staff. McDaniel is the run-game specialist, while LaFleur, the wide receivers coach, is the pass-game specialist.

Tight ends coach Jon Embree, formerly the head coach at Colorado, is Shanahan’s assistant head coach. Shanahan said Embree has a vocal role on his staff.

Moreover, long-time NFL running backs coach Bobby Turner is a trusted assistant after spending 14 seasons in Denver and four more in Washington with Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father. Turner coached under Kyle Shanahan the past two seasons with the Falcons.

”Bobby Turner’s been an assistant head coach for our teams we’ve had in the past and anytime that I need him to take over, he does,” Shanahan said. “So it depends what period it is, depends what we’re talking about.”

The 49ers opened organized team activities last week. It was the first time the 49ers’ rookies and veterans were together on the field for offense vs. defense practices. Shanahan said it takes some adjustment for him to figure out how to best budget his time during the workouts.

“I’m used to knowing exactly where to go and what to do and I always did that from an offensive coordinator standpoint which I still do a lot of those responsibilities,” Shanahan said. “So, at times, I feel most comfortable when I go to do that because that’s something to do. But, when I pass it over to some other guys and let them do it, I find myself walking around a lot and I’m not used to that.

“It feels awkward, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think I should walk around and watch everyone and see it. I always see it on the tape, but that’s later at night. You want players to know you’re there and paying attention to everything and I usually try to cover that in meetings the next day also.”

Harbaugh goes Biblical, responds to Jacobs' criticisms of his coaching

Harbaugh goes Biblical, responds to Jacobs' criticisms of his coaching

Former NFL running back Brandon Jacobs spent one season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Jacobs only played in two games and gained seven yards on five carries. The results were nothing like his 5,087 yards and 60 touchdowns over eight years with the Giants. 

Apparently being pushed to the bench as a 31-year-old veteran running back didn't sit well with Jacobs. 

“Going somewhere where they don’t have route conversions into certain coverages was just absurd,” Jacobs said Thursday on the Tiki and Tierney Show. “They’re just running routes in the defense, getting people killed. Size and strength is what they had, and that’s why they won.

"Let’s be real. They had great assistant coaches, but Jim didn’t know what he was doing. Jim had no idea. Jim is throwing slants into Cover-2 safeties, getting people hurt. That guy knew nothing, man."

On Saturday morning, Harbaugh responded to Jacobs with a tweet to him. 

Harbaugh went 44-19-1 in four seasons as the 49ers' head coach. He also added five playoff wins and a trip to the Super Bowl in the 2012-13 season, the one that Jacobs played for him.