Owusu's successful return does not include returns

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Owusu's successful return does not include returns

SAN FRANCISCO -- Chris Owusu lined up on the outside with two Minnesota Vikings assigned to rough him up and impede his progress down the field.At the snap of the ball, Owusu made a quick move to the outside to get around cornerback Bobby Felder. Then, Owusu sprinted down the field untouched, lengthening the gap between the two Vikings with every stride.Owusu's effort, however, was not rewarded on the back end, as Andy Lee's punt sailed 64 yards into the end zone for a touchback. Still, the moment was a significant milestone for Owusu, whose senior season at Stanford ended in early November with his third concussion in a little more than a year.Once viewed as a mid-round draft pick, Owusu was not among the 253 players chosen in the NFL draft. The 49ers signed Owusu shortly after the conclusion of the draft as a rookie free agent.On Friday, Owusu made a successful return to football."It was a dream come true," Owusu said Sunday after the 49ers' practice at Candlestick Park."You always want to fulfill your dreams, and one of my dreams has always been to play in an NFL game. And to go out and compete, it was a blessing. I thank God for the opportunity."Owusu is reticent to discuss concussions. He said once he decided to continue to pursue football as a career, he has been totally invested in winning an NFL full-time job."I prayed about it a lot after what happened to me," Owusu said. "After that, I wasn't looking back. And I want to continue to move forward. Once I made the decision to continue playing football, I'd have no regrets."While some teams shied away from Owusu, the 49ers felt comfortable offering him 3,000 and a spot on the team's 90-man roster because of their close ties to him. Jim Harbaugh coached Owusu at Stanford. And, more important, the 49ers have intimate knowledge of Owusu's medical history."You've got to remember, he was cleared to play by the same group of doctors that work with us on a regular basis," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in April. "He certainly was not off our board."Dan Garza, the 49ers' team medical director, is associate director of Stanford's Lacob Family Sports Medicine Center. He is also one of the nation's leading concussion researchers. Garza and his colleagues spent last year collecting real-time data through high-tech mouthpieces worn by Stanford players.Owusu is one of 12 receivers on the 49ers' camp roster, and he has remained under the radar for most of the team's dozen practices. Practice time has seemingly been in short supply for Owusu -- even when compared to the other undrafted rookies in camp."That's part of the game," he said. "That's part of being a rookie. You got to go out there and prove you belong on the field and prove that you got what it takes to play in the NFL."Every opportunity, you got to go make the most of it and you got to be confident. You got to know your plays and you have to stay in the playbook. And once you know the plays, just go out and play fast."Owusu made the most of his opportunities on Friday. He played 16 snaps from scrimmage and emerged as the team's leading receiver with three catches for 35 yards.And the 49ers seemed to break out of an apparent protective mode when they lined him up as a gunner on punt coverage. Two Vikings were assigned to batter Owusu, but neither got a hand on him."Chris is an outstanding gunner," Harbaugh said. "We didn't use him (at Stanford) as a gunner. He was more of a returner for us. But he's an outstanding gunner. We found that out since he's been here."Owusu was an outstanding kick returner at Stanford. He returned a Pac-12-record three kicks for touchdowns in 2009. And his career return average of 27.33 yards ranks second all-time in the conference behind former Oregon and current Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart's 28.69.Yet, Owusu is not even listed on the 49ers' depth chart as a return man. On Sunday, six 49ers lined up to practice fielding kickoffs -- Ted Ginn, Kendall Hunter, Kyle Williams, and rookies LaMichael James, A.J. Jenkins and Brian Tyms. And Owusu was merely a spectator.Jenkins and James were the 49ers' picks in the first two rounds. Tyms went undrafted. Owusu clocked faster 40 times at the NFL scouting combine (from 4.31 to 4.36 seconds) than any of them.
The 49ers clearly want to find ways to get James' hands on the ball. The second-round pick is getting a lot of work as a return man. At Oregon, James averaged 21.3 yards on just three career kick returns. Jenkins, the team's first-round pick from Illinois, averaged 20.3 yards on 38 returns -- 22 of which came in 2008 as a freshman.When asked why Owusu is not getting an opportunity to return kicks, Harbaugh seemed just as stumped as anyone."That's exactly what I was thinking, too," Harbaugh said. "He's been really good at gunner. But we can use him at returner. We've been working some other guys, but he's very capable to do it. It's a valid question."

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

In Kyle Shanahan’s first breath after being introduced as 49ers head coach on Feb. 9, he mentioned Jim Harbaugh, along with Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci.

The head coach of Michigan was listening, and he appreciated the gesture.

“It was very flattering that he said nice things about us at his news conference, and I appreciated that,” Harbaugh said on "The TK Show," a podcast from Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group.

“Now, I don’t think I was there long enough to be compared with Bill Walsh or Coach Seifert, etc. But I think did – and correct me if I’m wrong – I think we did set a record for coaching there the longest under the present ownership, if I’m not wrong.”

That is correct.

Since John and Denise York took over control of the 49ers in 2000 from Denise’s brother, Eddie DeBartolo, the 49ers have employed eight head coaches. Mike Nolan was fired after seven games of his fourth season. The two coaches who followed Harbaugh -- Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly -- were fired after 5-11 and 2-14 seasons, respectively.

Harbaugh’s teams advanced to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance. He and the 49ers “mutually parted ways,” the club announced, immediately after the team finished with an 8-8 record in 2014.

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh during his opening remarks at the introductory press conference earlier this month:

“I’ve got to start out thanking Jed and the whole York family. Giving me this opportunity is, it’s a dream come true and it’s not just an opportunity to be a head coach, but to be a head coach at a place like this where you talk about Bill Walsh, you talk about George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, Jim Harbaugh and you can go down the line with the coaches.”

Said Harbaugh, “Just appreciated it. Appreciated it, and not just for me personally, but appreciated that for all the wonderful players we had and the wonderful coaches and the effort that was put in. People poured their hearts and souls into those years. It’s just appreciated that Kyle would make that comment.”

Harbaugh said he has deep respect for Shanahan and new 49ers general manager John Lynch, whom Harbaugh asked to speak to his Stanford teams during his four-year tenure as head coach.

“Yeah, I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.

“I thought John took note when they were going through the process. e didn’t want his name mentioned and I think that’s . . . I don’t know if a lot of people noticed that, but I think that’s a profound thing. I think that speaks volumes for who he is as a person. He wants to do a good job and it’s for the right reasons. He’s a competitor at the highest level, so I have great respect for that.”

Kawakami also asked Harbaugh about whether he believes quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still capable of being an NFL starter.

“There’s no doubt he can be an NFL starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said.

“I’m sure Kyle, the coaching staff there and John will meet on it, they’ll think about it, they’ll watch, much like we did when we got in there in 2011. And they’ll make the best decision they can for the team and the organization and it’ll play out the way it’s going to play out.”

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

During the month the 49ers had no general manager or head coach, Tom Gamble was the next-highest-ranking football official and was charge of the personnel department on an interim basis.

But CEO Jed York made it clear from the beginning Gamble, whom Trent Baalke promoted to assistant general manager just prior to the start of training camp last summer, would not be considered for a promotion to general manager.

John Lynch, with no front-office experience, was hired over Arizona’s Terry McDonough and Minnesota’s George Paton. Before Lynch’s introductory press conference, he hired two top lieutenants in the personnel department to usurp Gamble on the organization's power structure.

On Wednesday, the 49ers announced what had become inevitable: Gamble was leaving the organization.

“I must thank Jed, the York family and the entire 49ers organization for the wonderful memories they provided me and my family, but it is time I move on,” Gamble said in a statement. “This past month, I have had the pleasure of working alongside John Lynch and the talented staff he has assembled. The team is in capable hands and I wish them nothing but the best.”

Lynch’s first move as general manager was to hire Adam Peters away from the Denver Broncos to serve as 49ers vice president of player personnel.

Lynch worked alongside Peters when Lynch took part in Broncos meetings and prospect evaluations, which included a trip to the NFL scouting combine, prior to the 2013 draft.

“That month, month-and-a-half, I actually sat next to Adam every day,” Lynch told CSNBayArea.com. “Those are long meetings. I’d listen to him and we’d talk in between about players. I just saw way back then, he’s a guy who’s highly respected in the league. I firmly believe in two, three years, he would’ve been a GM. He was on that track, at least.”

During Lynch’s introductory press conference a week later, he announced the hiring of Martin Mayhew as senior personnel executive. Lynch and Mayhew were teammates in the secondary for Lynch’s first four NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mayhew spent seven seasons as Detroit Lions general manager. Mayhew should be able to provide Lynch with valuable counsel as learns on the job after spending the past eight seasons as a TV analyst on FOX.

“Martin has sat in the seat as a general manager and his experience will play an integral role in helping us locate the type of football player we want representing this organization both on the field and in the community,” Lynch said.

Gamble recently completed his 29th NFL season and his 10th with the 49ers in two stints. After he was fired as Philadelphia Eagles vice president of personnel late in the 2014 season, and came back to the 49ers in the 2015 offseason.

While with the Eagles, Gamble was one of the few individuals in the front office who worked well with Chip Kelly. Gamble played an important role in speaking up for Kelly and bringing him to the 49ers last offseason.

Kelly and Baalke were fired after the 49ers' 2-14 season, and the 49ers promoted the ability to create a fresh start when a new coach and general manager. While the 49ers were expecting Gamble to remain with the organization through the draft, his spot with the organization was going to be tenuous with a new regime.

“He is a class act who has helped a great deal in this transition, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him,” Lynch said in a statement. “After working together over the last month, Tom and I agreed that it would be in both of our best interests for him to pursue other opportunities.”