Midseason report: Special teams


Midseason report: Special teams

First-half storyline: When Jim Harbaugh added Brad Seely to his coaching staff it was a hire that largely slipped under the radar. But within the NFL, it was viewed a significant coup for Harbaugh and the 49ers.

Seely, the 49ers special-teams coordinatorassistant head coach, had one of the top units in the league the previous two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Prior to that, he was a part of three Super Bowl champions with the New England Patriots. Seely has a tremendous unit with the 49ers, led by kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee and return man Ted Ginn. The coverage units are also strong with Blake Costanzo coming with Seely from Cleveland, and holdover C.J. Spillman. When the 49ers talk about a "team effort" enabling them to reach the midpoint of the regular season with a 7-1 record, nobody fails to mention special teams as one of the big reasons for the club's success.MVP: Akers. The 13-year pro has been outstanding. He leads the 49ers in scoring with 78 points. He has made 19 of 21 field-goal attempts, including all four of his attempts from beyond 50 yards. He has already become the first player in franchise history to make four kicks of 50-plus yards in a season. Moreover, Akers has done a tremendous of keeping the opposition pinned deep in their own territory with his kickoffs. The 49ers awarded Akers a three-year, 9 million contract in the offseason to replace Joe Nedney. It has been money well-spent.Biggest surprise: Generally, NFL players do not exactly relish the thought of playing special teams. But even some of the regulars -- such as NaVorro Bowman, Delanie Walker and Bruce Miller -- are making big contributions on the coverage units.Biggest disappointment: With the way Seely has these units performing, there's nothing that even remotely ranks in this category.Best play: Just days after accepting a pay cut to remain with the team, Ginn appeared vastly underpaid while rescuing the 49ers in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Clinging to a two-point lead with four minutes to play, the 49ers were able to breathe easier when Ginn returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. Then, 59 seconds later, Ginn took a punt all the way for a 55-yard touchdown in the 49ers' 33-17 victory. And, with that, the Harbaugh era was off to a good start.Worst play: Trailing by 17 points early in the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles, King Dunlap managed to get between 49ers protectors Mike Iupati and Chilo Rachal in the center of the line without much resistance to block Akers' 45-yard field goal attempt. The play led directly to three points for the Eagles, who built a 23-3 lead before the 49ers came storming back for the win.Key to the second half: If the 49ers keep doing what they're doing, they have nothing to worry about in this phase of the game.

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

PHOENIX – Coach Kyle Shanahan walked into a position with the 49ers in which he had no quarterbacks on the roster.

On the first two days of free agency, the 49ers added Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. He determined they were better fits for the offense he would be installing over Colin Kaepernick, who started 64 regular-season and postseason games for the 49ers over the past 4 ½ seasons.

Shanahan appeared to be looking for quarterbacks who are more proficient at going through progressions and making plays from the pocket. Kaepernick was not deemed as a good fit for Shanahan's offense.

“Colin’s had a great career, and he’s done some really good things,” Shanahan said on Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think Colin has a certain skillset that you can put a specific offense to it that he can be very successful in.

“When we first looked at it, you got to look at each quarterback and what type of offense you want to put in. That wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to put in a different type of offense.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. General manager John Lynch has confirmed the 49ers would have released Kaepernick if he had not opted out of his deal.

“The type of offense I wanted to run was somewhat different and that’s why we went that type of direction,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers’ top target in free agency was Hoyer, who enters his ninth NFL season with his sixth different team. Shanahan was offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 in Hoyer’s second and final season with the club.

Hoyer started five games with Chicago in 2016 before getting sidelined with broken left arm. Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions in 200 attempts.

“All these questions about what I like in a quarterback, Brian is like that,” Shanahan said. “He’s obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense. He’ll be able to execute and run it. That gives other guys a chance to perform in your offense. If your quarterback can’t execute it and go through it, it doesn’t always matter what the O-line or the receivers are doing.

“With Brian, you have a very smart guy who works at it, will hang in the pocket and is fearless, will keep his eyes down the field and deliver the ball to the right spots. It gives people a chance to be successful.”

The 49ers also reached a contract agreement with Barkley, who started six games with the Bears due to injuries to Jay Cutler and Hoyer. Barkley saw the most extensive playing time of his career. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

“Just watching Matt since college, Matt’s always been a solid player, even coming out and playing at an early age at (USC),” Shanahan said. “He’s battle-tested in that way. He’s gone through the pressure of college, the pressure of the draft, being in the NFL, being with some different teams. Even watching Matt in Chicago this year, I think he played better this year than he has throughout his career. That means the guy is continuing to work at it.”

The 49ers figure to go to training camp with four quarterbacks, so the team is not finished at the quarterback position.

“We’ll look to add anyone who can really help us,” Shanahan said. “I’m very happy with the two we got. You know we’re not only going to take two to camp. So we got to see how the draft works out and then you see what else is out there.”

Goodell reacts to suggestion Kaepernick is being 'blackballed'

Goodell reacts to suggestion Kaepernick is being 'blackballed'

PHOENIX – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday he does not believe quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being “blackballed” in his attempt to continue his career.

“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way that that’s an issue,” Goodell said during his press conference to conclude the NFL owners meetings.

“My experience in 35 years is that our clubs make independent evaluations of players. They work hard to try to improve their teams. But if they think a player can help improve their team, they’re going to do that.”

Kaepernick remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent after opting out of his 49ers contract earlier this month. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman this week was asked on ESPN’s "First Take" whether he felt Kaepernick was being blackballed.

"I'm sure he is," Sherman answered. "It's difficult to see because he's played at such a high level, and you see guys, quarterbacks, who have never played at a high level being signed by teams. So it's difficult to understand."

General manager John Lynch on Tuesday said the 49ers have not had any contact with Kaepernick since he and coach Kyle Shanahan met with Kaepernick on Feb. 22 in Santa Clara. The 49ers signed free-agent quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley have shown no interest in re-signing Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, 29, created a controversy last season when he opted to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States. Kaepernick has decided to stand for the national anthem this season.

Earlier in the day, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it was “stupid” and “intellectually lazy” to think teams have colluded to keep Kaepernick out of the league. Last week, former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, John’s brother, said Kaepernick is still an outstanding player and can win championships.

“I absolutely think he’s going to get signed,” John Harbaugh said. “I agree with Jim. He can win games for people.”