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.

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spent last offseason working with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics.

Ryan went on to set career-bests in completion percentage (69.9), yards passing (4,944), touchdowns (38), interceptions (7) and passer rating (117.1).

New 49ers quarterback Matt Barkley worked with House and Dedeaux for the fourth offseason in Southern California before reporting to Santa Clara for the team’s offseason program.

“Kyle (Shanhan) is on board with what House and those guys are doing – I think, really, because of the year Matt Ryan had,” Barkley said on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s a believer in that. He saw the benefits of what Matt did with some of his drops and the timing on routes, how he changed his feet on some things. So we’re kind of sticking with that plan. Everyone is a little different, but for the most part we’re all on the same page when it comes to what our drops are looking like, our footwork and how the ball is coming out.”

House is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who founded the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles. Dedeaux pitched at USC and is the grandson of USC baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux. Former NFL quarterback John Beck is a motion mechanics instructor.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are among the NFL quarterbacks who have worked with 3DQB.

“I believe in those guys and what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “They’re at the top of their game, working with Brady and a bunch of other guys. They’ve helped me.

“He won’t change your throwing motion or really tweak how the ball comes out, but he’s going to try to maximize velocity and ground force production and torque -- a lot of sports science terms. But, really, just maximizing efficiency with your motion and making sure you’re sequencing is right.”

Barkley had never played for Shanahan before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. But there are two obvious connections. Barkley’s offensive coordinator last season with the Chicago Bears was Dowell Loggains, Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 when Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. The other connection is House.

"It’s kind of funny, he worked with Atlanta’s staff all of last year, helped Matt Ryan, kind of build his base from the ground up and helped him a lot and he had an MVP year," Barkley said of House.

"There may have been talks down the pipeline, who knows. I don’t think that was the deciding factor by any means, but it never hurts.”