49ers

Versatile defense does not short-change itself

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Versatile defense does not short-change itself

Vic Fangio mixed up a dizzying array of packages for the 49ers defense to use against Aaron Rodgers, the league's reigning MVP. They worked."It was really good," said cornerback Carlos Rogers about his defensive coordinator's game plan. "I played with some good coordinators and I think he's one of the best, if not the best."Everything we see out there on Sunday, we see during the week. He did a good job of preparing us. Most importantly, that scout team did a good job of giving us some looks that Green Bay was going to do, and it made it much easier out there on Sunday."Rogers and his teammates got their first look at Fangio's plan for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions on Tuesday afternoon, and expect to see more of what they did at Lambeau Field."Yeah, especially when they like to spread it out and they have big-time receiving threats," safety Donte Whitner said. "We have multiple DB's that we can bring out on the football field. Whichever package coach wants to use this week, the matchups that he likes, he'll choose to do that."But please excuse Whitner, Rogers and the rest of the 49ers secondary if they can't remember exactly all of the different alignments they are in. The 49ers were in their base defense for only a handful of the 72 snaps they had against the Packers, causing Rogers to laugh as he tried to recall who was in on what situation.But here are the basic packages:Nickel -- The 49ers use two safeties and three corners in their nickel (five defensive backs) with Rogers moving to the nickel back position to cover the slot receiver. Chris Culliver comes into the game at cornerback, with nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga departing. Ray McDonald and Justin Smith are the tackles on the four-man line, with outside linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith shifting to defensive end positions. Tramaine Brock began last season as the third cornerback, but Culliver never gave up that job after Brock missed several games after undergoing early season hand surgery. Now, Brock is the team's fifth cornerback.
Dime -- This is a defense that includes the same four defensive linemen, one linebacker and six defensive backs. The opposition typically has four wideouts on the field when the 49ers employ this defense. The only difference from the nickel is a fourth cornerback, Perrish Cox, enters the game with either inside linebacker, Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman, going out of the game. On Sunday, it was mostly Willis who exited when Cox entered the game in this package. In this defense, Cox plays a quasi-linebacker position. He is on the field because he has a better chance of matching up against a wide receiver. The one remaining linebacker spot is more similar to Bowman's normal position, Fangio said.Dollar -- Designed mainly for third-and-long situations, this personnel package includes only three defensive linemen (Justin Smith, McDonald and Aldon Smith), inside linebackers Willis and Bowman, and the same six defensive backs from the "dime" defense. Fangio brought in a third safety in the "dime" and "dollar" packages last season and had Whitner move down. This season, the 49ers are going with two safeties and four corners to comprise the six defensive backs.With so many moving parts the communication is almost nonstop to ensure every player knows what his responsibility is."The whole back end, the safeties all the rest of us corners, we're all talking," Cox said. "Basically all of us have to come together and just talk it up."The secondary's performance at Green Bay is a good indication they're saying the right things."Just the poise that we showed out there on the football field," Whitner said. "When you play quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, they want to get to the line of scrimmage early. They want to get early looks, play around to make you show the coverage and we didn't do that against the Green Bay Packers. So it's a step better than we were last year."AP and US Presswire images

Large report finds CTE in 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players

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AP

Large report finds CTE in 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players

CHICAGO -- Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

It's the largest update on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a debilitating brain disease that can cause a range of symptoms including memory loss.

The report doesn't confirm that the condition is common in all football players; it reflects high occurrence in samples at a Boston brain bank that studies CTE. Many donors or their families contributed because of the players' repeated concussions and troubling symptoms before they died.

"There are many questions that remain unanswered," said lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. "How common is this" in the general population and all football players?

"How many years of football is too many?" and "What is the genetic risk? Some players do not have evidence of this disease despite long playing years," she noted.

It's also uncertain if some players' lifestyle habits - alcohol, drugs, steroids, diet - might somehow contribute, McKee said.

Dr. Munro Cullum, a neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, emphasized that the report is based on a selective sample of men who were not necessarily representative of all football players. He said problems other than CTE might explain some of their most common symptoms before death - depression, impulsivity and behavior changes. He was not involved in the report.

McKee said research from the brain bank may lead to answers and an understanding of how to detect the disease in life, "while there's still a chance to do something about it." Currently, there's no known treatment.

The strongest scientific evidence says CTE can only be diagnosed by examining brains after death, although some researchers are experimenting with tests performed on the living. Many scientists believe that repeated blows to the head increase risks for developing CTE, leading to progressive loss of normal brain matter and an abnormal buildup of a protein called tau. Combat veterans and athletes in rough contact sports like football and boxing are among those thought to be most at risk.

The new report was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

CTE was diagnosed in 177 former players or nearly 90 percent of brains studied. That includes 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players, seven of eight Canadian Football league players and three of 14 high school players. The disease was not found in brains from two younger players.

A panel of neuropathologists made the diagnosis by examining brain tissue, using recent criteria from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, McKee said.

The NFL issued a statement saying these reports are important for advancing science related to head trauma and said the league "will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes."

After years of denials, the NFL acknowledged a link between head blows and brain disease and agreed in a $1 billion settlement to compensate former players who had accused the league of hiding the risks.

The journal update includes many previously reported cases, including former NFL players Bubba Smith, Ken Stabler, Dave Duerson and Ralph Wenzel.

New ones include retired tight end Frank Wainright, whose 10-year NFL career included stints with the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. Wainright died in April 2016 at age 48 from a heart attack triggered by bleeding in the brain, said his wife, Stacie. She said he had struggled almost eight years with frightening symptoms including confusion, memory loss and behavior changes.

Wainright played before the league adopted stricter safety rules and had many concussions, she said. He feared CTE and was adamant about donating his brain, she said.

"A lot of families are really tragically affected by it - not even mentioning what these men are going through and they're really not sure what is happening to them. It's like a storm that you can't quite get out of," his wife said.

Frank Wycheck, another former NFL tight end, said he worries that concussions during his nine-year career - the last seven with the Tennessee Titans - have left him with CTE and he plans to donate his brain to research.

"Some people have heads made of concrete, and it doesn't really affect some of those guys," he said. "But CTE is real."

"I know I'm suffering through it, and it's been a struggle and I feel for all the guys out there that are going through this," said Wycheck, 45.

In the new report, McKee and colleagues found the most severe disease in former professional players; mild disease was found in all three former high school players diagnosed with the disease. Brain bank researchers previously reported that the earliest known evidence of CTE was found in a high school athlete who played football and other sports who died at age 18. He was not included in the current report.

The average age of death among all players studied was 66. There were 18 suicides among the 177 diagnosed.

Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills

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AP

Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills

Aquan Boldin is looking for a new football home.

And the former 49ers wide receiver is visiting with the Bills on Monday, according to multiple reports.

Boldin started all 16 games with the Lions last season, recording 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns.

From 2013 to 2015 with the 49ers, he racked up 237 receptions, 3030 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

The three-time Pro Bowler will turn 37 years old in October.

Boldin entered the NFL as the 54th overall pick in the 2003 draft.