As Saints continued momentum, 49ers sharpened themselves

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As Saints continued momentum, 49ers sharpened themselves

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers did not put on full pads during their two days of practices late last week, but the tempo was close to game speed.That's because there was pride at stake with the first-team offense going up against the starting defense."It's like a game-type of environment on the practice field," 49ers safety Dashon Goldson said. "It's like a real battle out there."
Before the New Orleans Saints could earn the right to face the 49ers, they had to get past the Detroit Lions. Before the 49ers begin this week in preparation for the Saints, they faced off a couple of times in practices against each other.And that has not been out of the ordinary in recent weeks. When the 49ers' offense sputtered during a six-game stretch in which they scored touchdowns on just 3 of 18 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line, coach Jim Harbaugh enacted a change in the practice schedule.The struggling 49ers' offense went against the team's first-team defense in red-zone drills. The offense seemed to benefit from the work, finishing the regular season with six touchdowns in their final nine trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line."Our scout team has been amazing, but it helps to get full-speed reps in the red zone," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. "It was full-speed coverage, full-speed rushes and full-speed blitzes. Any time you get that, it's beneficial."RELATED: It's 49ers vs. 49ers in bye week practices in Santa Clara
Said tight end Justin Peelle, "It's faster out there. It's a faster look, and we didn't know what we'd be getting, so it forced us to adjust and that's something you need to be able to do. The coaches point was made that we weren't doing very well in the red zone. Then, we were able to start putting the ball in the end zone instead of kicking field goals."Typically, once the regular season begins the starting offense and defense works against the scout team -- comprised of backups and practice-squad players who are running the anticipated plays of the opposition."Obviously, the scout team guys do so much for us," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "But just getting that game-speed tempo, especially on Fridays when we're getting the work versus the ones -- getting realistic looks, not knowing what you're going against -- just going out there and reacting, I think is great for us."The 49ers did not start game-planning for any one opponent last week during their two days of practices. On Saturday evening, the coaching staff began finalizing the game plan to face the Saints, a 45-28 winner over the Detroit Lions in the first round of the NFC playoffs.The Saints kept their momentum going with their ninth consecutive victory. The 49ers believe they kept making strides toward becoming a better team, too."Iron sharpens iron," Goldson said. "We know there are going to be some tough teams we're going to face." As the 49ers begin on-field preparations Monday to face the Saints, the only player not expected to play Saturday is tight end Delanie Walker. He is out for the game after sustaining a fractured jaw on the left side of his face in two places Dec. 24.Defensive end Ray McDonald did not practice last week due to a right hamstring strain. He strained his left hamstring in November and missed one game. This hamstring strain to his other leg is not as bad, he said. Expect him to play Saturday.The biggest Saints injury is wide receiver Lance Moore, who missed the game against the Lions with a hamstring injury of his own. During the regular season, Moore caught 52 passes for 627 yards and eight touchdowns.

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.”