Solari, Drevno: Offensive line is maturing

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Solari, Drevno: Offensive line is maturing

SANTA CLARA -- Here is Part II of the question-and-answer session with the 49ers offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Tim Drevno:

RELATED: The Solari-Drevno interview, Part 1
Looking at the way the offensive line has responded, there's a pretty clear line -- that Philadelphia game -- where the rushing numbers are up and the sack numbers are down. Is that a true reflection of how well the offensive line taken in the message and performed?
Solari: "I think it goes back to the whole offensive crew coming together and maturing and developing. My personal opinion is you're behind -- without knowing every team in the NFL -- I think all the offensive lines were a little behind because you didn't have the OTAs (organized team activities) and you didn't have the offseason program and the film study, so all the offensive lines were behind. As the season progressed here, Jim Harbaugh did a great job. And Greg Roman did a tremendous job. You just kept seeing the maturity of the offense coming together. It's an awesome thing how it's coming together. Not only that, but the team. And special teams. It's great. But I think the men in this room have taken pride in their work of learning the details and putting it together."Has the line been asked to do things a lot differently from last season?
Solari: "I wouldn't say a lot differently. There are things that are different -- things that are exciting. But just the thing is, this offensive line is maturing and coming together. It's a tremendous group. They work together, all of them. The young guys we brought in, the guys who were here. It's just exciting to see them develop and gain confidence. The guys around them are doing are doing a beautiful job. Frank Gore does a great job. The tight ends are doing a great job, the wide receivers. The blocking. The things you don't see in the rushing numbers, shoot, the tight ends, the receivers. The quarterback, in the sense of what he's doing. And it's exciting."What was your impression when you saw the talent that was here on the offensive line?
Drevno: "Very exciting. You turn on the film and you see guys who are athletic, physical and can run. You know, great opportunity to be successful."You saw them on film a long time before you worked with them. How did your opinions change after you started to get to know them?
Drevno: "You see it live. 'Yeah, this guy's a physical player.' Or 'This guy can move, he's got good feet, good balance, good smarts.' It became live in front of your eyes."From Year 1 with Anthony Davis . . . he had an inconsistent rookie season, and this year the last few weeks, I'm not sure they've had stronger right tackle play here in a long time. Why do you think he has taken that leap even without the offseason?
Solari: "He's maturing. As a rookie, it's very difficult in the NFL. He's maturing. His preparation is improving. His work ethic is improving. From the weight room, his work ethic is improving. And Adam Snyder has done a beautiful job. Joe Staley has done a beautiful job. The men in this room, the leadership, you just watch those guys work. Joe and Adam, and the addition of Jonathan (Goodwin). Those guys with experience, you just watch them perform. That has enhanced his performance and Mike Iupati's performance."What does it mean to have a veteran like Goodwin, somebody who has won a Super Bowl? Is he immediately looked upon as the leader?
Solari: "No, he has to earn it. When a guy comes in, he still has to earn it. And he earns it through his work ethic on the football field and his preparation off the football field. In the facility, they have to earn it."You have seven linemen up on game day, and each of those seven guys has a role. There are times when everybody is called upon. Is it important to keep everybody engaged and knowing even without an injury that they can be on the field for the next play?
Drevno: "I think they all understand that in the room, and they're all taking accountability and they're all in this thing together. They understand that their role is so, so important for us to be successful on Sunday."How has the group responded to know that on the moment's notice the backups have to get in there?
Drevno: "They love challenges, and they thrive on competition. This is a very competitive, hard-working and prideful group that takes pride in their work. It is the best group I've been around in terms of that. They're pros. They come to work every day with a hard hat and a lunch pail and they're read to go to work."In Youngstown, you guys had gotten off to a rough start and Joe Staley made the comment, "We do not suck." Did that strike a chord in this room? Was that something talked about?
Solari: "It's a group that's getting better each week, and that's the most important thing. We have to stay constant in that. Each week you're seeing that. Now, the key is to keep building those stages and we'll be where we want to be."Do you see the confidence growing?
Solari: "Yes. Confidence is fostered by success. But, yes, each week it's growing. You see that in their performance, individually and collectively as a unit. And, again, the key thing at this level is you got to stay healthy and we've been fortunate. And those seven guys are working hard. We've been fortunate, but it's also their work ethic off the field. They're doing things in the weight room to take care of their bodies, and what they're doing in their preparation, getting ready for the game."You guys put in a full day on game days. I see before games you're working with the linemen who aren't going to suit up, going through an entire practice before games. Is that unique because there are two of you?
Solari: "Not sure if it's unique. I don't know what all the teams are doing. But everybody has their different thing. But it's really helped us. Again, it keeps those other young guys ready. It's awesome thing, also, working with them because they're improving their techniques and fundamentals. They're like sponges. They want to get better. So it's exciting to be able to work with them and we taking advantage of the time to take the opportunity to make them better."How long do you work with them before the game?
Drevno: "Thirty minutes, at most."
Solari: "Most guys get a good sweat and loosen up. It's to get them a good sweat, but also to enhance their techniques, and enhance their performance for the week coming up. So it's a chance to coach them up and teach them and communicate with them. I think it's exciting."You've had experience with a couple of those guys, tackle Derek Hall and center Chase Beeler, how do you see them growing at this level?Drevno: "Tremendously. I think they're doing football all day long, so you're going to get better at it in the classroom and on the field. On the field, you're going against better football players, so you have to be better, technique-wise, maybe something you got away with in college, you can't do at this level because everybody's good. They're growing tremendously. Every day they've gotten better. And I think it's the strength coach to the coaches in the room to the players around them, the drive to be good, the chemistry."Is it a pretty good room from that standpoint?
Drevno: "Yes."Is there a lot of fun had in this room?
Solari: "When they come in here, they put their hard hats on. Joe's Joe. You know their personalities. They know when to have fun and when it's time for business."It's a young group, with the exception of Goodwin, is there a chance here to really build something special?
Solari: "With the youth, we'll see very good growth."What will be the key to that?
Solari: "Sticking together. When you look at the teams that have been very, very successful, the offensive line has been together two years. Three years is a luxury now with free agency and so forth. Three years is a luxury. But when you look back at the teams that have been successful, whether it's the New York Giants or the New Orleans Saints, the continuity is always something that's consistent there, when you look back at those lines."

49ers offense: Top training camp competitions

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49ers offense: Top training camp competitions

The 49ers open training camp next week in Santa Clara with a number of competitions going on simultaneously on both sides of the ball.

Coach Kyle Shanahan did not hire an offensive coordinator. He will assume the role of running the offense, as he atempts to remake the 49ers' offense to his specifications.

Brian Hoyer is set at quarterback. Joe Staley will line up at left tackle. Kyle Juszcyzk was signed as the highest-priced fullback in the NFL, and the starting wide receivers figure to be Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin.

After that, things are a lot less certain.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ top four training camp battles on offense:

INTERIOR O-LINE
The tackle positions appear straight-forward with Staley and Trent Brown – though Brown will have to hold off Garry Gilliam to retain his starting job.

But there are a lot of options for the 49ers at the three interior positions. Zane Beadles started all 16 games last season at three different positions. He enters camp as the front-runner to start at left guard.

Jeremy Zuttah, who was added to the Pro Bowl roster at center last season, came to the 49ers in an offseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Zuttah and Daniel Kilgore will compete for the starting job. Tim Barnes, who started 32 games the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, is in the mix, too.

If Zuttah is not the starting center, he can transition to either guard position to compete with Beadles on the left side or, more likely, the right side.

Joshua Garnett, whom former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke traded up to select in the first round of the 2016 draft, will have to show dramatic improvement over his rookie season to return as the starter at right guard.

Brandon Fusco, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, started 16 games at left guard in 2015 and 14 games last season at right guard.

TIGHT END
It is within the realm of possibility the 49ers could have a complete overhaul at tight end, as none of the five players who finished the season with the team is a lock to win a roster spot.

The 49ers selected George Kittle in the fifth round. He showed a lot of promise with the best showing of any tight end during the team’s offseason program. The 49ers this offseason also added blocking tight end Logan Paulsen, who has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, and undrafted rookie pass-catcher Cole Hikutini.

Vance McDonald was the subject of trade talks during the draft – just months after signing a contract extension with $9.1 million in guaranteed money. Garrett Celek and Blake Bell also face stiff competition in order to be back on the 53-man roster.

RUNNING BACK
Carlos Hyde is entering the final year of his original four-year contract, and he has competition for the first time since Frank Gore’s exit cleared the way for him to be the featured back.

Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner handpicked former Utah running back Joe Williams for their scheme. Williams got off to a slow start after joining the offseason program, but he eventually put himself into a position to compete for a significant role in training camp.

Veteran additions Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs will be competing for roles in the backfield, as well. Undrafted rookie Matt Breida had an impressive offseason during the non-padded practices.

SLOT RECEIVER
Jeremy Kerley was one of the few free agents from last year’s team that the 49ers had any interest in re-signing. Kerley was the best receiver on the team a year ago -- and it wasn’t even close. He caught 64 passes for 667 yards for the league's least-productive passing game.

The 49ers selected Trent Taylor in the fifth round, and he made an immediate impact during the offseason program after catching 136 passes for 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Louisiana Tech.

A year ago, Bruce Ellington was the 49ers’ best receiver during training camp before his season came to an abrupt end with a torn hamstring in an exhibition game. The onus is on Ellington to remain healthy and prove himself to the new coaching staff.

O.J. Simpson to face Nevada Parole Board with freedom in sight

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AP

O.J. Simpson to face Nevada Parole Board with freedom in sight

LOVELOCK, Nev. -- O.J. Simpson once thrilled crowds as he ran for touchdowns and hurdled airport seats in car rental ads to achieve Hollywood celebrity before he was acquitted of murder in the 1995 "trial of the century" in Los Angeles.

Now, an aging Simpson will appear as inmate No. 1027820 in a starkly plain hearing room in a remote Nevada prison Thursday to plead for his freedom. He's spent more than eight years behind bars for armed robbery and assault with a weapon after trying to take back sports memorabilia in a budget hotel room in Las Vegas.

Simpson, 70, will ask four parole board members who sided with him once before to release him in October, a likely possibility with his clean prison record.

It will be a stunning scene for a charismatic star once known as "The Juice" who won the Heisman Trophy as the best U.S. college football player in 1968 and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

He appeared to have it all.

He went on to star in Hertz commercials and movies like the "Naked Gun" comedies and do sideline reporting for "Monday Night Football" before his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were slain in 1994.

Simpson is expected to reiterate that he has kept a promise to stay out of trouble, coaches in the prison gym where he works and counsels other inmates.

"I guess, my age, guys come to me," Simpson told parole officials four years ago.

The same commissioners granted him parole on some of his 12 charges in 2013, leaving him with four years to serve before reaching his minimum term.

At Simpson's side in his bid for freedom will be lawyer Malcolm LaVergne, close friend Tom Scotto, sister Shirley Baker and daughter Arnelle Simpson.

O.J. Simpson is expected to explain what he would do and where he would live if he is granted parole after reaching the nine-year minimum of his 33-year sentence.

He was convicted in 2008 after enlisting some men he barely knew, including two with guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier.

"My crime was trying to retrieve for my family my own property," Simpson told the parole officials in 2013 before apologizing.

"Make no mistake, I would give it all back," he said, "to get these last five years back."

The items disappeared after Simpson was found not guilty in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife and her friend and before he was found liable in 1997 in civil court for the deaths.

He was ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors including his children and the Goldman family.

A Goldman family spokesman said Ron Goldman's father and sister, Fred and Kim, won't be part of Simpson's parole hearing but that they felt apprehensive about "how this will change their lives again should Simpson be released."

"They will remain patient and optimistic that the system will do what is necessary to ensure the public's safety remains a priority and that proper justice will be served," spokesman Michael Wright said this week.

The Goldmans believe Simpson got away with murder in Los Angeles, and many people felt the stiff sentence handed down in 2008 in Las Vegas wasn't just about the robbery.

Now, even the retired district attorney who prosecuted Simpson for the heist acknowledges that Simpson has a good chance to go free. But David Roger denied Simpson's sentence was "payback" for his acquittal in the Los Angeles slayings.

The former prosecutor said Simpson took a gamble when he rejected an offer to avoid trial by pleading guilty to a felony that could have gotten him 2½ years in prison.

"He thought he was invincible, and he rolled the dice," Roger said.