Maiocco: Production matters in 49ers' captains vote

163521.jpg

Maiocco: Production matters in 49ers' captains vote

Sept. 6, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEO
Follow @MaioccoCSN
Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com

On the day that cuts were made to 53 players, the 49ers held a vote to select their two captains for the season.

The result of the vote was interesting. It spoke to what the players value from a teammate.

Leadership might be great, but the quality that swayed the 49ers players was production.The defensive captain is Patrick Willis, an understated tackling machine who has been named to the Pro Bowl each of his first four NFL seasons. He is on pace for a Hall-of-Fame career. Willis is the 49ers' best defensive player.

The captain on offense is running back Frank Gore. His team-record streak of four consecutive 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons ended last year when he still gained 853 yards despite missing the final five games with a fractured hip. Gore is the 49ers' best offensive player.

When coach Jim Harbaugh announced Saturday which players were voted as 49ers captains, it was only natural to begin to think about which players were not chosen.

Of course, there was one name that immediately came to mind . . . Alex Smith.

Smith was the leader for the 49ers during the five months when the 49ers needed somebody to step up and take charge during the lockout.

Smith was the point person with San Jose State officials to arrange for his teammates to use the Spartans' weight room and fields. The players were not allowed to have any communication with the 49ers' coaches and were banned from the team's property. Smith served as director of football operations, head coach, offensive coordinator and, yes, starting quarterback during that time.

Harbaugh handed Smith a copy of the 49ers' playbook when a judge ordered the lockout lifted for one day in late-April. The next day, the lockout was back in effect after the NFL appealed to a federal court.

Smith spent a month studying the playbook and perusing the PowerPoint material and film he collected from the 49ers' coaching staff. Then, he got in touch with every 49ers offensive player to arrange two weeks of playbook study sessions and on-field work.

The result was "Camp Alex," which gave the offense a head start they would not have otherwise been afforded. Smith's work was commendable -- especially considering he had yet to sign his one-year, $4.9 million contract. Gore and right guard Chilo Rachal were the only 49ers offensive players under contract, then and now, who did not attend any of the sessions.

Smith has done everything in his power to give himself the best chance of having a successful season. And, sure enough, Harbaugh named Smith the starting quarterback for the season opener after he outplayed rookie Colin Kaepernick in practices and in the four exhibition games.

Beyond that, Smith has a lot to prove in his seventh NFL season after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.

Coach Mike Singletary named Smith a captain prior to last season. But when Smith did not produce as well as Singletary had hoped, the coach lost faith in Smith and gambled his future on the play of Troy Smith. Singletary was fired, landing a job as Minnesota Vikings linebackers coach, and Troy Smith is still waiting for the phone to ring.

Alex Smith is the 49ers' quarterback and, thus, he must be viewed in the locker room as a leader.

There is little doubt he is one of the most-liked players on the 49ers. His teammates recognize Smith's perseverance, conscientiousness and commitment. All those qualities are great. If Smith did not do all the right things off the field, there is no chance he would still be suiting up for the 49ers.

But it's also clear that leadership by example -- performance on game days -- is what ultimately wins the respect of the locker room.

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spent last offseason working with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics.

Ryan went on to set career-bests in completion percentage (69.9), yards passing (4,944), touchdowns (38), interceptions (7) and passer rating (117.1).

New 49ers quarterback Matt Barkley worked with House and Dedeaux for the fourth offseason in Southern California before reporting to Santa Clara for the team’s offseason program.

“Kyle (Shanhan) is on board with what House and those guys are doing – I think, really, because of the year Matt Ryan had,” Barkley said on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s a believer in that. He saw the benefits of what Matt did with some of his drops and the timing on routes, how he changed his feet on some things. So we’re kind of sticking with that plan. Everyone is a little different, but for the most part we’re all on the same page when it comes to what our drops are looking like, our footwork and how the ball is coming out.”

House is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who founded the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles. Dedeaux pitched at USC and is the grandson of USC baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux. Former NFL quarterback John Beck is a motion mechanics instructor.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are among the NFL quarterbacks who have worked with 3DQB.

“I believe in those guys and what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “They’re at the top of their game, working with Brady and a bunch of other guys. They’ve helped me.

“He won’t change your throwing motion or really tweak how the ball comes out, but he’s going to try to maximize velocity and ground force production and torque -- a lot of sports science terms. But, really, just maximizing efficiency with your motion and making sure you’re sequencing is right.”

Barkley had never played for Shanahan before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. But there are two obvious connections. Barkley’s offensive coordinator last season with the Chicago Bears was Dowell Loggains, Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 when Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. The other connection is House.

"It’s kind of funny, he worked with Atlanta’s staff all of last year, helped Matt Ryan, kind of build his base from the ground up and helped him a lot and he had an MVP year," Barkley said of House.

"There may have been talks down the pipeline, who knows. I don’t think that was the deciding factor by any means, but it never hurts.”