Quarters coverage: 49ers-Saints in exhibition opener

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Quarters coverage: 49ers-Saints in exhibition opener

Aug. 12, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
NEW ORLEANS -- Coach Jim Harbaugh has paced the 49ers through 11 practices.That's 33 hours devoted to practice and evaluations over the past two weeks. So anything that happens in the 49ers' exhibition opener Friday night against the New Orleans Saints will merely be an addendum to what Harbaugh and his staff have already seen, he said.
"As far as evaluations go, it'll mean something that it's a game," Harbaugh said. "But I don't think it'll mean as much as the 11 practices we've had under our belt right now. It'll augment it, definitely. But what these guys have been doing and what they're working on, those things to me kind of tip the scales."Still, there should be plenty to watch throughout the "game" . . . First quarter
There's this guy -- Alex Smith is his name -- who will enter the huddle with the 49ers' first-team offense as the quarterback. It's certainly no make-or-break game for Smith, who somehow remains with the organization for a seventh season. But Smith can make things a lot easier on himself by getting off to a good start in the exhibition season. The starters are expected to play about 20 snaps. At least that's what Harbaugh said earlier this week. How much will running back Frank Gore play? With a contract extension in the works, it goes to reason that Gore would not see much action with Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter, Xavier Omon and Seth Smith all available for duty. Right tackle Anthony Davis struggled in road games last season. Although it's only an exhibition game, we'll see if Davis does a better job of handling crowd noise and locking quickly into his pass-block sets. Defensively, the 49ers are looking for left cornerback Carlos Rogers to provide an upgrade over Nate Clements. He'll get his first chance to show what he can do. Also, Ray McDonald takes over as the starting defensive end after signing a five-year, 20 million contract to return to the club with more responsibility.Second quarter
Harbaugh said quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the most "game ready" of all the team's rookies. Perhaps we'll find out. He is making the difficult transition from college to the pro game without the benefit of the months of coaching in the offseason that rookies are generally afforded. Let's start with the basics. Kaepernick is still working on taking snaps under center. Also, Kaepernick's first reaction in college was to take off running to produce big yards. At this level, it's important that he remains in the pocket and learns that it's not a bad thing to just throw the ball away when nothing is there. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin, who started for the Saints the past three seasons, will probably enter the game as Adam Snyder's backup. He is getting close to taking over as the starter. First-round pick Aldon Smith and third-round selection Chris Culliver will get plenty of action as they maneuver for significant roles for a pass defense that ranked 24th in the NFL last season. Smith has shown good pass-rush moves as an outside linebacker, and Culliver has held up well in coverage against his teammates.
Third quarter
Rookie offensive linemen Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person will see a lot of play time. Kilgore has lined up mostly at left guard, while Person has been working at right tackle. Undrafted rookie Chase Beeler is the only player on the roster, aside from Goodwin, who has significant experience at center. He'll get his chance to show what he can do. There are some spots available at inside linebacker. Navorro Bowman has the inside track to start alongside Patrick Willis. Larry Grant, Keaton Kristick, Blake Costanzo, Alex Joseph and Scott McKillop are also slated to see action. McKillop was the subject of an erroneous transaction Friday on NFL.com that listed him as being "cut." The team says McKillop was never cut, and NFL.com eventually removed the listing. Still, he knows his spot on the team in tenuous. Special teams will play a huge role in which inside linebackers make the 53-man roster.Fourth quarter
The 49ers have been up front about contacting teams around the league to see if there is any interest in a trade for safety Taylor Mays. He is likely to see action in the second half. There is pressure on Mays to make some plays to convince the 49ers -- or some other team -- that he has a future in the NFL. Donte Whitner, Madieu Williams and C.J. Spillman are expected to see action ahead of Mays. Dashon Goldson suited up for his first practice Wednesday after signing a one-year, 2 million contract. Goldson is not expected to play. Reggie Smith is out after undergoing arthoscopic surgery Monday on his knee. Mays will be weaved into the defensive backfield among a group of fellow safeties that includes Chris Maragos, Curtis Taylor, Colin Jones and Anthony West. Harbaugh said he anticipates playing all four of the 49ers' quarterbacks. Behind Alex Smith and Kaepernick are undrafted rookies Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The 49ers have to decide whether they would be content to open the season with either of those players as the No. 3 quarterback.

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.”