Willis confident in his ability to cover

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Willis confident in his ability to cover

It's difficult to ask Patrick Willis about what challenges an upcoming running back poses, because, well, he's Patrick Willis.There isn't any style of running back that the five-time Pro Bowler can't bring down. Speed back, power back, scat back, between-the-tackles, down-hill-runner, use whatever description you want, it doesn't matter. Willis has tackled them all.This season, Willis has had a new challenge, dropping into man coverage more. As I've written before, this means he's been matched up one-on-one with some of the league's biggest and best tight ends: Jason Witten, Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew, Jake Ballard, Fred Davis and Jimmy Graham, among them.

To prepare, Willis has gone up against Vernon Davis more in practice this season. When I asked Davis about it he joked, "I've been giving him the works."It's apparent in games how Willis has responded. Few tight ends have had success against the 49ers either in reception yards or finding the end zone.But there is a simple pass play that is difficult for any linebacker to cover, even Willis. It's the play that is largely responsible for Davis tying the single season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end in 2009 -- right down the middle. It's how Pettigrew scored his 16-yard touchdown in Week 6. It's how Graham scored his 14- and 66-yard touchdowns in the divisional playoff game.Yes, Jake Ballard is dealing with knee issues and isn't as explosive as Pettigrew and Graham, but when I asked Willis if he expected to the Giants to use that play, he responded:"I'm sure that they'll look at film from the last game and they'll see something that they feel like they can get," Willis said. "It's the National Football League. Each play is a big play. I think they'll try what they will and it's up to us to stop it. It's up to me to do my job and I look forward to the challenge."Players are going to make plays," Willis added. "They're going to break tackles. That's part of the game but that doesn't mean you stop playing the game. It doesn't mean you stop believing in yourself. I still have just as much confidence in my ability to cover, to tackle, to play this game than I did before. It doesn't matter to me what they try."Davis' touchdown production went down in 2010 when he started seeing double coverage to take away the middle. If the 49ers do so against the Giants on Sunday, well, that may leave Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham or Hakeem Nicks in an advantageous situation. But the 49ers secondary also understands Ballard could require some extra attention."We've been facing some really good tight ends," said safety Donte Whitner. "Ballard from the New York Giants, he's a really good tight end. I think he's averaging 15 or 17 yards per catch. That's a high percentage for any tight end in the National Football League. They get him open in various ways depending on the coverage. He's not the fastest guy, he's not the swiftest guy out there, but he tends to get open and he has really good hands."

Falcons coach Quinn: 49ers' offense, defense in good hands

Falcons coach Quinn: 49ers' offense, defense in good hands

INDIANAPOLIS – Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn believes the 49ers’ offense and defense have capable people charge.

Quinn, speaking Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, has worked on the same staffs with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who will run the team’s offense, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh, who served as Jacksonville’s linebackers coach the past three season, spent one season on the Seattle staff when Quinn was defensive coordinator.

“He has a really good and rock-solid understanding of the principles of playing three-deep and man-to-man,” Quinn said of Saleh. “He’s an excellent teacher. And, I think, as a coordinator that’s a really important thing, especially when you’re first putting the whole thing together so everyone has a real clear understanding and they’re all on the same page. So I think he’ll do a fantastic job.”

Shanahan did not hire an assistant to serve under the title of offensive coordinator. Instead, he will assume those duties with the 49ers while also overseeing the entire operation as head coach. Shanahan has been an NFL offensive coordinator for eight seasons, including the past two under Quinn with the Falcons.

“He is one of the few coaches who has a full understanding – run game, offensive line, quarterback play, receiver play,” Quinn said of Shanahan. “You could put him into any spot on the offense, and he’ll be able to coach that position. That’s a rare trait. There are some guys who are sto strong in one area. It might be in the run game or so strong in the pass game. But he has a really clear understanding how to do the whole thing.

“I never like to see anybody leave the staff, but what I can appreciate is a guy taking a risk to say, ‘Hey, I want to give this a shot and go battle for it.’ So I’m excited for him and the opportunity he has there.”

Report: Kaepernick's new agents inform teams he will opt out

Report: Kaepernick's new agents inform teams he will opt out

INDIANAPOLIS – Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will become a free agent for the first time in his six-year NFL career.

Kaepernick’s new agents, Jeff Nalley and Sean Kiernan, informed all 32 teams on Tuesday that he will, as expected, opt out of his contract to become a free agent, the NFL Network reported.

Kaepernick was scheduled to make $14.9 million in salary and bonuses for the 2017 season. If he did not opt out, the 49ers were expected to release him to avoid being on the hook for his scheduled pay.

The 49ers do not have a quarterback under contract for the upcoming season. Kaepernick is coming off his best season since 2013 – his first full season as the starter. Kaepernick completed 59.2 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Quarterback ranks as the team's top need for the upcoming season.

“Do we have some places – probably the ultimate position, quarterback – where we need to improve? Absolutely,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said on KNBR last week. “And we’re committed to doing that.”

Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Thad Lewis are also scheduled to be free agents.