Maiocco: Harbaugh's thoughts will be revealed

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Maiocco: Harbaugh's thoughts will be revealed

Sept. 17, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers coaching staff learned a lot about the team in the season-opener, he said this week.And, obviously, Harbaugh should have a better idea of how to use his personnel to game plan for an opponent after seeing the starters in action for a full regular-season game."I think we understand that better, more than we did," Harbaugh said.What he learned, of course, is a closely guarded secret. But we will probably see some more clues Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys that tell us what Harbaugh thinks about the personnel on his team.What does Harbaugh really think about quarterback Alex Smith's

ability to take control of the 49ers' offense? The game plan the 49ers unveil against the Cowboys should paint a clear picture.
Smith did everything asked of him against the Seattle Seahawks. Well, almost everything asked of him. The 49ers had the ball at the Seahawks' 1-yard line with :17 remaining in the first half with no timeouts. Harbaugh, who was mic'd up for NFL Films, reminded Smith of two pass options "or throw it away." Harbaugh added, "A field goal is big here, so nothing dumb."Smith rolled right, didn't see anyone open and ran for the end zone. He made it -- the un-dumb move -- or else the 49ers might not have gotten an opportunity to kick a field goal before time expired.Despite completing 15 of 20 pass attempts, Smith threw for just 124 yards. The 49ers relied on a lot of three-step drops and high-percentage passes. The implied instructions for the game: "Nothing dumb."
But this game lends itself as an opportunity for Smith and the 49ers' passing game to take a few more chances.The 49ers should be able to make more plays in the passing game on Sunday. The Cowboys ranked 26th in the NFL last season in pass defense, yielding an average of 243.4 yards throwing per game. And the Cowboys will not have the services of two of their top three cornerbacks, as Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick have been ruled out with injuries.Will the 49ers stick with Frank Gore and the run game against a depleted secondary? Or will Smith be asked to push the ball down the field? The answer will provide a strong indication of what Harbaugh learned about his passing game in Week 1.Here are some other elements of the 49ers' game plan that should be interesting to watch:Nickel defense: On third downs or when the Seahawks went with three wideouts, the 49ers put their nickel package onto the field. Starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga , outside linebacker Parys Haralson and free safety Madieu Williams were replaced by defensive end Aldon Smith , cornerback Tramaine Brock and safety Reggie Smith. Did that rotation work well enough? Does veteran cornerback Shawntae Spencer get some work on defense this week? He returned to full practice for the week of the opener after missing all of camp with a hamstring strain but was relegated to special teams. How about safety Dashon Goldson? Goldson (knee) returned to limited practice this week, but he might not even be active for the game.How to block Ware: Dallas pass-rusher supreme DeMarcus Ware lined up all over the place in the Cowboys' season-opener against the New York Jets. He'll be lined up over left tackle Joe Staley, and he'll see time against right tackle Anthony Davis
. But there is no way the 49ers will leave either of their tackles singled-up on Ware very often. Gore will be asked to chip him on occasion. Also, the 49ers added a third tight end this week, veteran Justin Peelle, who could have a role in assisting Staley and Davis.Changing of the guard:Chilo Rachal started at right guard, but Adam Snyder also saw some action in the opener. That was the only substitution along the offensive line that the 49ers made against the Seahawks. Rachal played most of the game, but it's clear that he's on a short leash. There continues to be competition at this position, and Snyder remains a candidate to replace Rachal as a starter.

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”