Shanahan goes full Del Rio in 49ers debut, but without the talented roster


Shanahan goes full Del Rio in 49ers debut, but without the talented roster

It did not take Kyle Shanahan long to figure out what kind of coach he will need to be in San Francisco – at least not in the short term.
Faced with the conundrum of the Carolina Panthers’ defense, which has broken far better teams than the San Francisco 49ers, Shanahan used his debut as head coach to try to hit a few gutshot straights and make fourth down a non-traditional event.
Four times in the first half of a game the 49ers lost in uninspired fashion, 23-3, Shanahan was confronted with fourth downs, and after two punts which gave them boring old field position, he decided, first down 7-0 and then 10-0, that the players, and the half-filled stadium, needed a reason to reinvest themselves in the chase.
So he went full Jack Del Rio, only without the Raider coach’s roster inventory. The first time, he wagered field position on a fourth-and-four at the Panthers’ 44 with seven minutes left the second quarter. The second time, with only 44 seconds left in the half, he went again from the Carolina 45.
Both times failed. Both times the Panthers got routine field goals out of the gambles to provide a cushion the locals never threatened.
And, even though the small sample size might suggest otherwise, he should continue to do so. He is building a team from the storm cellar up, and punts are far less educational (and exciting) than playing riverboat poker.
“Both,” he said when asked if he was trying to be aggressive or because he was playing for field position. “The two times in the second half, we didn’t really have a choice, but the first one, were down one, just out of field goal range, and you have a choice between punting it and pinning them back or going for it, and I thought we had a chance to get it.”
As it was, quarterback Brian Hoyer got sacked by Thomas Davis, killed the drive and propelled a drive that led to Graham Gano’s first of three field goals.
On the second, fullback Kyle Juszczyk was stacked by tackle Star Lotulelei and end Wes Horton, prompting a last-minute march by the Panthers to a second Gano field goal and a 13-0 halftime lead.
That is 13-0, as in insurmountable. That is to say that the game was in most ways a disappointment for him, his players and a crowd generously counted at 70,718. The offense gained only 217 yards in a mere 54 plays, a passable average of 4.0 per play but threatened to score only once, late in the game (and that drive died on a fourth-and-one from the Carolina 1, when as Shanahan said, “We didn’t really have a choice.”)
Running back Carlos Hyde looked tolerable but not dynamic, and neither quarterback Brian Hoyer nor his receivers caused much panic in the Carolina secondary. Of the three units, the defense was by far the most inspiring.
Or, as Shanahan put it, “We played a very good team, and we weren’t at our best. I definitely expected us to be further along.”
But he knows just as well that Rome wasn’t built in two hours and 55 minutes (at least they read the league directive on playing faster games; last year they averaged 3:09, with similarly turgid results).
They also committed two turnovers which led to Carolina touchdowns, and 10 penalties, including three false starts, three illegal formations and one defensive offside. In short, between an offense that would need a tuneup to sputter, inattention to detail and Shanahan’s gambler’s instincts, the 49ers looked like exactly what they are – a team with seven wins in the past two years starting from scratch. 
Which is not Shanahan’s sin, or general manager John Lynch’s, either. They are what we thought they were, to quote the bard Dennis Green, and making them not be what we thought is going to take a long time, and a hard climb.
But you knew that going in. They knew it going in. It doesn’t make it any tastier, but everybody’s got to eat.
“Yeah, it was disappointing,” Shanahan said when asked if this was any way to make a first impression. “But whether it’s the first time, last time or any other time I have the rest of my career, it was disappointing. Any tyime you lose and lose that way, it's frustrating and disappointing. I’ll feel that all day today and all night, and our players will too, and then we've got to watch the tape tomorrow and figure out a way to get better.”
That would be starting Sunday in Seattle against a Seahawk team which lost 17-9 in Green Bay with an equally inert offense. The Seahawks are a much different seabird at home, and have much more of a resume of bounceback games under Pete Carroll than Shanahan could possibly have, but Seattle is not San Francisco’s worry. San Francisco is.
The 49ers are playing against themselves for the time being, trying to figure out who and what they are and the best way to get to who, what and where they want to go. Sunday, they showed predictably little except for a little more swashbucklery in do-or-die situations.
And until further notice, that’s exactly what this team needs – practice in those situations, because though they might not come along often, they need to be played when they do. Kyle Shanahan has many metrics upon which he will be measured, but the number of times he asks his team to show its mettle on fourth down should be near the front – at least until they become good enough collectively to be a little more careful.

49ers assistant Katie Sowers donates items to Pro Football Hall of Fame


49ers assistant Katie Sowers donates items to Pro Football Hall of Fame

San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers has a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Sowers, in her role as seasonal offensive assistant, became the first female assistant in NFC history this season. Sowers is situated upstairs for game days as part of Kyle Shanahan’s staff.

Sowers donated her coaching shirt and binder from the Week 1 game against the Carolina Panthers to the Hall of Fame.

“The Pro Football Hall of Fame is pleased that Coach Katie Sowers has donated artifacts from her regular-season debut as the first fulltime female coach in NFC history,” Hall of Fame executive director Joe Horrigan said in a statement.

“Her pioneering role in pro football will undoubtedly inspire others to work to overcome obstacles while pursuing their dreams and aspirations.”

Kathryn Smith, a member of the Buffalo Bills staff last season, was the league’s first full-time female assistant.

Reuben Foster making 'freak' recovery from high ankle sprain


Reuben Foster making 'freak' recovery from high ankle sprain

SANTA CLARA – Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster has made significant physical improvement just nine days after sustaining a high right ankle sprain.

The 49ers’ medical staff no longer requires Foster to wear an orthopedic boot to stabilize his foot. On Tuesday, he was seen walking briskly through the 49ers’ locker room with no hint of an issue.

Foster will not play Thursday night when the 49ers return to action against the Los Angeles Rams. Beyond this week, it remains possible Foster could make a quick return to the field.

“The one thing I know is that freak athletes tend to be freak healers, as well,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday.

Lynch said the team will take no chances with Foster and it’s too early to tell if it’s possible he can return to the lineup Oct. 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. Foster sustained the ankle injury on the 11th play of the season opener against the Carolina Panthers.

“We think the sky’s the limit for Reuben,” Lynch said. “We just have to get him healthy and we’re going to make sure he’s all the way healthy. We can’t afford, with a guy like that, to put him out there too soon.

“He wanted to play the first week in the boot. That’s just the way he’s wired. We got to make sure he’s all the way healthy before we put him in, and we’re going to do that.”