Maiocco: Player-by-player look at 49ers defense


Maiocco: Player-by-player look at 49ers defense

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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have completed just three practices in training camp, including just one with full pads. But that won't stop us from an early camp progress report on every player under contract. Here's a look at defense and special teams:

Defensive linemen (9)
Justin Smith: When defensive coordinator Vic Fangio says there are only two or three defensive players who have already earned their spots, Smith is obviously one of them.
Isaac Sopoaga: He came to camp and learned he would be switching to nose tackle. But he has been unable to practice, as a hamstring strain has kept him out of action.
Ray McDonald: Signed on Friday, can't practice until start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4. Slated to be the team's starting left defensive end.
Ricky Jean Francois: He is lining up with the first-team defense with Sopoaga unable to practice. He looks to be playing with good leverage and is further along than he was a year ago at this time.
Will Tukuafu: He is benefitting from the transition rules as much as anybody. With McDonald unable to practice, he is seeing all the first-team reps at left defensive end.
Ian Williams: Fangio says after watching Williams a little bit that he fits into the "This guy's got a chance" category of undrafted rookies. The question is whether he'll be able to hold the point at nose tackle in the NFL at his size. He is getting second-team reps.
Sealver Siliga: The undrafted rookie from Utah is currently getting few reps as the team's No. 3 nose tackle at practice. And this is before Isaac Sopoaga, penciled in to be the stater, has been cleared to practice.
Brian Bulcke: The undrafted free agent is the only player on defense who played for Fangio at Stanford. Bulcke has been getting second-team reps at left defensive end.
Demarcus Dobbs: The undrafted rookie from Georgia is lining up with the second-team defense at right defensive end.Linebackers (13)
Patrick Willis: The 49ers know what they're going to get with Willis, so they were quick to remove him from Sunday's practice when something didn't feel right. Whatever ails Willis -- it looked as it was something with his left foot -- doesn't figure to keep him out long.
Aldon Smith: The 49ers' top pick is lining up exclusively at right outside linebacker behind Parys Haralson. But, as Fangio points out, "That can switch. One guy can go over to the left side one day and vice versa, so we don't know exactly how we are going to play our guys, if we are going to stay left and right or if we are going to be in a mode where we are going to flip them. It's way too early for that." As is the case with all of the 49ers' outside linebackers, Smith will move to defensive end when the 49ers go with their nickel defense, which features a four-man line. Smith showed up well in one-on-one pass-rush drills, as he made easy work of rookie Mike Person with a swift inside move.
Navorro Bowman: He is the clear front runner to be the inside linebacker who plays alongside Willis. Bowman is getting all the first-team reps, and looks as if he has a much better handle on the position with the experience he got from a year ago.
Parys Haralson: A primary starter since 2007, Haralson is one of the returning vets who must earn his starting job with the new coaching staff. Currently, he's atop the depth chart at right outside linebacker, but rookie Aldon Smith is closing quickly behind him.
Ahmad Brooks: Lining up with the starting unit at left outside linebacker. Brooks gathered in an interception during 7-on-7 drills Saturday. If he can nail his assignments in the class room, he has a good chance to see an increase in playtime.
Larry Grant: Three-year pro who started eight games for the Rams last season signed on Sunday. He can't practice until start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4. Will compete for Takeo Spikes' old job.
Antwan Applewhite: Signed on Sunday, a day after the 49ers lost Travis LaBoy to the Chargers, Applewhite takes the opposite route. He can't practice until start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4.
Keaton Kristick: He has been getting second-team reps at inside linebacker alongside McKillop. And when Willis was held out of Sunday's team sessions, Kristick stepped up and got many valuable first-team practice time.
Scott McKillop: Cleared to participate fully in the first day of camp after sustaining torn left knee ligament and tendon that ended his season in training camp a year ago. He is working with the second team as an inside linebacker, and he intercepted a Jeremiah Masoli pass on Sunday that was deflected off running back Kendall Hunter's hand. It's been a good start for camp.
Thaddeus Gibson: Claimed off waivers last season from the Steelers, he is taking part in his first 49ers camp. He lines up left outside linebacker with the second-team defense behind Ahmad Brooks.
Monte Simmons: Undrafted rookie from Kent State is behind Ahmad Brooks and Thadeus Gibson on the depth chart at left outside linebacker.
Kenny Rowe: He's in the same situation as Simmons, getting third-team reps. Rowe has been playing right outside linebacker.
Alex Joseph: After practicing Friday, he was held out Saturday and Sunday due to an undisclosed injury. He has been watching practices from the field.Defensive backs (15)
Shawntae Spencer: The starting right cornerback grabbed at his left hamstring after turning and running with a receiver on a deep route on one-on-one drills Sunday. He was held out for the remainder of the day's activities.
Reggie Smith: He appears to be the most at ease of the 49ers' defensive backs. He made the top defensive play of the first three days, when he ranged from the middle of the field to intercept a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Lance Long 25 yards down the field on Sunday. Of the guys on the field now, he clearly looks like a starter.
Madieu Williams: The seven-year veteran agreed to a one-year deal with the 49ers on Monday. He will not be eligible to practice until the start of the new league year. His addition to the team should not impact whether the 49ers' thinking about free-agent Dashon Goldson, who remains unsigned.
Taylor Mays: He was with the second-team defense on Friday, but he worked Saturday and Sunday with the first unit with C.J. Spillman ineligible to practice. He has yet to make any plays on the ball.Tarell Brown: With Nate Clements' exit, Brown gets the first shot at left cornerback. He held up well in his first three practices, as he hopes to put himself into a position to hang onto a significant role when (or if) reinforcements arrive.
Chris Culliver: He has gotten off to a very strong start in training camp with several passes defended. He is working with the second team at left cornerback, and he's also been practicing kickoff returns.
Tramaine Brock: He stepped in Sunday to play right cornerback with the first-team defense when Spencer was held out.
Phillip Adams: He is returning from a gruesome broken ankle -- the same injury Giants catcher Buster Posey sustained. Phillips is practicing with the second team. He gave up some plays on the first day of camp, but looked good Sunday during the team's first padded practice with an interception of a Jeremiah Masoli pass.
C.J. Spillman: Signed as an exclusive-rights free agent and practiced Friday. He lined up as a first-team safety. However, the special-teams ace is not eligible to practice until the start of the new league year. The league excused the mistake and will not punish the 49ers.
Curtis Taylor: He simply looks intimidating and much bigger than listed 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. Taylor was better Saturday than he was Friday, as he runs now with the second-team defense after being with the third-stringers on the first day.
Chris Maragos: Running with the second-team defense, he recorded a pick in Saturday's practice.
Colin Jones: The sixth-round draft pick has not gotten much action. That's to be expected. His envisioned role is as one of the core special-teams guys.
Curtis Holcomb: Ruptured his left Achilles in conditioning drills on July 28, thus ending his rookie season before it ever began.
Corey Nelms: The undrafted rookie from Miami is lining up at right cornerback on the third team, so he's not getting many team reps.
Anthony West: The undrafted rookie from Nebraska has a lot of work to do in a short period of time, as the practice snaps have been sparse.Specialists (4)
Andy Lee: One of the best in the game is unchallenged in camp.
David Akers: The veteran signed on Saturday to replace Joe Nedney, who has announced his retirement. Akers can't practice until the start of the new league year, expected to be Aug. 4.
Brian Jennings: He's been so consistent through the years, so it's noticeable when he produces a high snap in a live field-goal drill that results in a missed kick. No reason to panic.
Fabrizio Scaccia: With David Akers signing a three-year deal, one would think that Scaccia has little chance at a roster spot. But he has a strong leg and looked under control while connecting on 7 of 8 field-goal attempts during a live drill Sunday. He'll try to carry it over into the exhibition season so he can at least get a chance elsewhere.-Rookies

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.”