Smith, Crabtree show confidence in one another


Smith, Crabtree show confidence in one another

The topic was confidence.

Specifically, the topic was Alex Smith's confidence. And it produced another uniquely Jim Harbaugh moment.

Any speculation that Smith's confidence went in the tank after two rough games against the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks was, in Harbaugh's words, "Just gobble, gobble, turkey, funk jive, turkey, gobblers."

OK.Personally, I haven't detected any week-to-week fluctuations in Smith's demeanor this season. But I believe there was something significant that happened Monday night in the 49ers' 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

And, perhaps, it was all about confidence.

But it was not so much Smith's confidence in himself that was particularly noticeable. It was Smith's confidence in wide receiver Michael Crabtree that, really, for the first time was on display.

Following the 49ers' loss in the NFC Championship game -- immediately afterward in the locker room and again the next day as he was departing -- Crabtree looked to be the most frustrated player on a team of frustrated players.

Crabtree watched how the New York Giants offense functioned. And he also singled out the New England Patriots. And he wanted the 49ers to be more like those teams.

"I was seeing guys getting the ball thrown to them and they had three people on them," Crabtree said the day after the 49ers' 2011 season ended. "They were getting a chance to make a play."

Smith rarely has given Crabtree chances to make plays on his own.

Crabtree has lobbied Smith to give him more opportunities even when there is not a lot of separation between him and the closest defender. And on Monday night, Smith finally gave Crabtree that chance.

On and third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Cardinals came with an all-out blitz. When Smith committed to throw to Crabtree, cornerback Patrick Peterson had his hands on Crabtree at the line of scrimmage. There was zero separation.

Smith did not hesitate. He showed trust in himself to make the throw. And he also showed trust in Crabtree that either he was going to catch it or nobody was going to catch it.

Crabtree made a nice catch, displaying strong hands and concentration to haul in the pass against Peterson's objections. Crabtree did his part to earn the trust of Smith on future throws.

"We're always talking about it," Crabtree said, "but when it happens in a game, you just have to make the most of it."

In another good sign of trust between Smith and Crabtree, the two went off-script to team up on a 9-yard touchdown just before the end of the half.

"The two guys were on the same page," Harbaugh said. "Michael really broke off his route. Alex read his body language. Michael came back inside. Alex hit him and then Crab found the lane to the end zone."

Smith and Crabtree hooked up for two red-zone touchdowns. Prior to Monday night, Crabtree had caught just two Smith-thrown touchdown passes in the red zone in their previous four-plus seasons together.

Crabtree had every reason to like the approach of Troy Smith (remember him?) better than Alex Smith. Troy Smith, to a fault, would throw the ball up for Crabtree to track down during his brief stint as the 49ers' starting quarterback in 2010

.Alex Smith was a lot more calculated with his throws to Crabtree on Monday. But the fact that he made those passes was a significant development. When defenses are successful limiting the effectiveness of tight end Vernon Davis, Smith needs to be able to exploit single coverage on Crabtree.

So, yes, it could be a matter of confidence. And after Monday's showing, there is good reason for Smith and Crabtree to grow that kind of trust in each other.

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

PHOENIX – Coach Kyle Shanahan walked into a position with the 49ers in which he had no quarterbacks on the roster.

On the first two days of free agency, the 49ers added Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. He determined they were better fits for the offense he would be installing over Colin Kaepernick, who started 64 regular-season and postseason games for the 49ers over the past 4 ½ seasons.

Shanahan appeared to be looking for quarterbacks who are more proficient at going through progressions and making plays from the pocket. Kaepernick was not deemed as a good fit for Shanahan's offense.

“Colin’s had a great career, and he’s done some really good things,” Shanahan said on Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think Colin has a certain skillset that you can put a specific offense to it that he can be very successful in.

“When we first looked at it, you got to look at each quarterback and what type of offense you want to put in. That wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to put in a different type of offense.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. General manager John Lynch has confirmed the 49ers would have released Kaepernick if he had not opted out of his deal.

“The type of offense I wanted to run was somewhat different and that’s why we went that type of direction,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers’ top target in free agency was Hoyer, who enters his ninth NFL season with his sixth different team. Shanahan was offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 in Hoyer’s second and final season with the club.

Hoyer started five games with Chicago in 2016 before getting sidelined with broken left arm. Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions in 200 attempts.

“All these questions about what I like in a quarterback, Brian is like that,” Shanahan said. “He’s obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense. He’ll be able to execute and run it. That gives other guys a chance to perform in your offense. If your quarterback can’t execute it and go through it, it doesn’t always matter what the O-line or the receivers are doing.

“With Brian, you have a very smart guy who works at it, will hang in the pocket and is fearless, will keep his eyes down the field and deliver the ball to the right spots. It gives people a chance to be successful.”

The 49ers also reached a contract agreement with Barkley, who started six games with the Bears due to injuries to Jay Cutler and Hoyer. Barkley saw the most extensive playing time of his career. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

“Just watching Matt since college, Matt’s always been a solid player, even coming out and playing at an early age at (USC),” Shanahan said. “He’s battle-tested in that way. He’s gone through the pressure of college, the pressure of the draft, being in the NFL, being with some different teams. Even watching Matt in Chicago this year, I think he played better this year than he has throughout his career. That means the guy is continuing to work at it.”

The 49ers figure to go to training camp with four quarterbacks, so the team is not finished at the quarterback position.

“We’ll look to add anyone who can really help us,” Shanahan said. “I’m very happy with the two we got. You know we’re not only going to take two to camp. So we got to see how the draft works out and then you see what else is out there.”

Goodell reacts to suggestion Kaepernick is being 'blackballed'

Goodell reacts to suggestion Kaepernick is being 'blackballed'

PHOENIX – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday he does not believe quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being “blackballed” in his attempt to continue his career.

“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way that that’s an issue,” Goodell said during his press conference to conclude the NFL owners meetings.

“My experience in 35 years is that our clubs make independent evaluations of players. They work hard to try to improve their teams. But if they think a player can help improve their team, they’re going to do that.”

Kaepernick remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent after opting out of his 49ers contract earlier this month. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman this week was asked on ESPN’s "First Take" whether he felt Kaepernick was being blackballed.

"I'm sure he is," Sherman answered. "It's difficult to see because he's played at such a high level, and you see guys, quarterbacks, who have never played at a high level being signed by teams. So it's difficult to understand."

General manager John Lynch on Tuesday said the 49ers have not had any contact with Kaepernick since he and coach Kyle Shanahan met with Kaepernick on Feb. 22 in Santa Clara. The 49ers signed free-agent quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley have shown no interest in re-signing Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, 29, created a controversy last season when he opted to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States. Kaepernick has decided to stand for the national anthem this season.

Earlier in the day, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it was “stupid” and “intellectually lazy” to think teams have colluded to keep Kaepernick out of the league. Last week, former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, John’s brother, said Kaepernick is still an outstanding player and can win championships.

“I absolutely think he’s going to get signed,” John Harbaugh said. “I agree with Jim. He can win games for people.”