Monday morning mailbag: Where was Willis?

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Monday morning mailbag: Where was Willis?

The 49ers answered many questions with their 30-22 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.But other questions remain, and perhaps I can lend some assistance . . . Q: Any word on why Bowman was the primary LB in the dime package instead of Willis? (@49ers5XAs9X)
That was certainly the first question I had when I noticed Patrick Willis coming off the field on the Packers' first drive when the 49ers went with six defensive backs. NaVorro Bowman played most of the time when sixth defensive back Perrish Cox entered the action.The Packers lined up for 72 offensive plays (including penalties). Willis was on the field for 48 plays, while Bowman played 59. Cox played 55 snaps.Here's how 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio explained it:"I think Bowman played a little more than Pat did just because the position that's left for that linebacker is Bow's normal position," Fangio said. "But Pat did play some in there, too."There were times when both Willis and Bowman were on the field when the 49ers had six defensive backs in the game, too. Willis would replace Ahmad Brooks and the 49ers would go with a three-man defensive line. Brooks came off the field for 16 plays.
"It's difficult to take him off the field," Fangio said of Willis. "But it's either that or he has to line up on a receiver sometimes, which he did a couple of times."Bowman had an outstanding game with 11 tackles, an interception and another pass broken up. Willis had six tackles. Afterward, Willis was all smiles in the winning locker room as Bowman was getting praise from coach Jim Harbaugh.Said Bowman, "You put the work in week-in and week-out. Me and Pat are in this thing together. It doesn't matter who's on the field. We are rooting for each other, and whenever he needs a breather and whenever I need a breather, we're there to help each other out."The 49ers can be expected to use more of their six-DB package on Sunday when the Detroit Lions come to Candlestick.Q: Did any rookies get any snaps? (@youngmannyp)

On offense, no.On defense, no.On special teams, safety Trenton Robinson, a sixth-round pick from Michigan State, was on the field for 15 plays. Robinson was the only rookie to see action.First-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins suited up for the game. He and newly added veteran linebacker Clark Haggans were the only players in uniform who did not get into the game.Running back LaMichael James, chosen in the second round, was a healthy scratch. He was among the seven inactive players. NFL teams can suit up only 46 of the 53 players on the roster.Fourth-round draft pick Joe Looney, a guard, was also declared inactive, as was undrafted free-agent tight end Garrett Celek.So what does this mean? Obviously, the 49ers have a veteran roster and did not require any help from the first-year players to go into Lambeau Field and emerge with a victory.Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the 49ers look at the big picture or developing their young players and not rushing them into service. It's quite possible both Jenkins and James will both be inactive in future weeks, as Brandon Jacobs and Ted Ginn get healthy.Q: Would you say this was a GPS game? (@AntonyJones12)
I resisted the temptation of declaring this a GPS Game -- a contest that provides an exact location of where a team stands within the NFL -- because everything we think about teams this early in the season is based off last year.But, yes, this was an eye-opening performance.
It's only Week 1 of the regular season, but the 49ers showed that they're not going to sneak up on anybody. They clearly established themselves as a Super Bowl contender. Look for them to rise atop NFL power rankings throughout the country.The most impressive part was how the 49ers physically dominated Green Bay. They ran the ball effectively, and they completely shut down the Packers' half-hearted attempt to run the ball.Backup offensive linemen Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore, along with defensive lineman Will Tukuafu, saw plenty of action as extra blockers. Davis played 12 snaps. Tukuafu and Kilgore saw six and five snaps, respectively.
Running back Frank Gore gained 112 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and Kendall Hunter added 41 yards on nine attempts. The 49ers rushed for 186 yards. Meanwhile, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers gained a team-high 27 yards on five scrambles. Cedric Benson managed just 18 yards on nine attempts."They got their win," Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We'll see them again."For the first week of the regular season, it doesn't get much better than what we saw Sunday. A January rematch would be great fun.

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.”