Boone, 49ers have hands full with Wilfork


Boone, 49ers have hands full with Wilfork

SANTA CLARA – Patriots tackle Vince Wilfork might not have the sexy statistics of, say, an Aldon Smith. But his value to the New England defense was on full display during Monday night’s 42-14 thrashing of the Houston Texans.

Wilfork anchored a defensive line that held star running back Arian Foster to just 46 yards on 15 attempts, for an average of 3.1 yards-per-carry. That includes a 15-yard scamper, and some quick math says Foster had just 31 yards in his other 14 carries combined. The 6-2, 325-pound Wilfork finished with four tackles, one for a loss, and one sack – just his second of the season.

While Wilfork’s stats don’t leap off the page, Greg Roman, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, knows how valuable the nine-year pro is to his team.

“Their front seven is as stout as I’ve seen and it starts with the big guy, Wilfork, who’s a tremendous athlete for his size,” Roman said on Wednesday. “I think everybody got to see him on display last week against the Texans.”

“He’s a heck of a player, and has a great understanding of the game,” Jim Harbaugh said. “I think the big thing is how well they play together as a defensive line.”

Third-year lineman Alex Boone will play the role of trying to nullify Wilfork to protect the quarterback and create room for running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James. Boone knows he’ll have his hands full.

“It will be a challenge,” Boone said. “He’s quick off the ball, he’s explosive for a big guy, and I think he’s strong. It’s just going to come down to fundamentals with him, and really just knowing it’s going to be a full day.”

Would Boone compare Wilfolk to anyone he’s seen so far in his brief career?

“I want to say he’s like an Isaac [Sopoaga]. He’s big, and you look at him and know he’s big, but you don’t think he’s going to be quick, but then he turns out to be quick,” Boone said. “Strong, good movement, and if you give him a weakness I think he’ll capitalize on it.”

While Roman and Boone were quick to praise Wilfork’s skills, WIlfork was just as complimentary towards San Francisco, as the two second-seeded clubs prepare for their Sunday night showdown at Gillette Stadium in front of a national audience.

In fact, Wilfork sounded genuinely sincere in an interview on Wednesday that was posted to the Patriots’ website, when he spoke with New England reporters about the 49ers’ offense.

“I’ve never seen an offense like this, because they can do so many different things,” Wilfork said. “It’s not an offense where you can say ‘when they line up like this they’re going to do this, or this guy is going to do this,’ because it seems like everybody who touches the ball is very dangerous, from the receivers to the backs to the quarterbacks.

“We’re going to have to basically get back to fundamentals, playing good football, and just learn on the go. Just play what we see. I’m pretty sure this week is going to be very, very crucial for us getting back to the sidelines every series to go over things that they’re doing different.”

Wilfork also sees a dynamic player in quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“He definitely can hurt you running the ball, and he’s a pretty good passer,” Wilfork said. “Normally when you have a guy that can run as well as a running back or a receiver, you have a negative. Most of the time as a quarterback, it’s being able to stand in the pocket and throw the ball, but this guy, I mean, he can throw the football. He has a strong arm, is pretty accurate, and for the most part he makes good decisions.”

Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

SAN JOSE – Dylan DeMelo may finally be coming to a San Jose Sharks game near you.

The 23-year-old defenseman, who has yet to play in any of the first six games, will likely make his season debut shortly, coach Pete DeBoer indicated on Monday.

“That’s something we discuss every day,” DeBoer said. “We like him, we’re very comfortable with him. We’d have no problem putting him in. I know Bob [Boughner] has no problem playing him, and not worrying about playing him against anybody out there. It’s a nice luxury to have. 

“We can get to the point where it’s too many games where he’s sitting out. We’re getting close to that. We’re going to have to get him in soon here.”

DeMelo has not played for the Sharks since the final game of the 2015-16 regular season on April 9. He served as the seventh defenseman in the playoffs, but the Sharks dressed the same six blueliners throughout their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In the preseason, DeMelo – who would have to clear waivers in order to be reassigned to the Barracuda – beat out Mirco Mueller for the seventh job on the Sharks. He signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

A former sixth round pick of the club in 2011, DeMelo had a breakthrough season in 2015-16, playing in 45 games and establishing himself as an NHL defenseman. He finished the season with two goals and two assists for four points and an even rating.

* * *

While the Sharks shook up their forward lines at Monday’s skate, the top power play unit remained the same. Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still together and will try to work out the kinks to their game.

The Sharks are 3-for-20 on the power play, with just one of those coming on a five-on-four.

“We’re not shooting the puck enough, that’s the big thing,” Couture said. “We’ve got to shoot the puck, get traffic. We always have a guy in front of the net and we’ve been getting away from that.”

* * *

Couture has managed five points (2g, 3a) through the first six games, all while battling a persistent cold that he just can’t shake. It’s obvious he’s dealing with some sort of sinus issue when hearing him speak the past few days.

“It’s like a month, it won’t go away,” Couture said. “It’s crazy.”

* * *

Breaking with standard practice, the Sharks opted to stay in Detroit the night after Saturday’s game, rather than immediately flying home on the team charter.

The Sharks were a miserable 1-8-1 in their first home game after a multiple-game road trip last regular season, with their lone win coming against Edmonton in a shootout, so DeBoer figured he would try something different this year.

“When we sat down in the summer and looked at areas to improve, our record coming back from road trips was not good last year,” he said. “We looked at opponents when we came back, our travel schedule. We’re just looking for answers to fix some of the areas that maybe we weren’t real good at last year.”

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

SAN JOSE – When the Sharks signed free agent forward Mikkel Boedker in the summer, head coach Pete DeBoer immediately pictured him on a line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi, saying a couple weeks ago that it looked good when he wrote it down “on a napkin.”

DeBoer apparently went through a few more napkins on the flight home from Detroit on Sunday, a 3-0 shutout loss to the Red Wings on Saturday surely on his mind.

The Sharks resumed practice on Monday with four entirely new lines, including Boedker up with the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Couture centered Donskoi and Joel Ward, while Tomas Hertl was in the middle of the third line with Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto. Chris Tierney skated as fourth line center with the remaining wingers.

“It’s not a panic situation or anything, I think you’re always looking for ways to get the most out of your group,” DeBoer said. “Our four-line game hasn’t been where I want it to be.”

Getting more out of Boedker is apparently part of the motivation for shuffling things up, as the newcomer has just four shots on goal through six games, with one point (a goal against Columbus on Oct. 15).

Playing with Thornton and Pavelski could help in that regard, just as it helped players such as Hertl last season.

“He’s got to shoot the puck more…and he knows that,” DeBoer said of Boedker. “I’m not concerned about him, but the nice thing about playing with those two guys is they push you to go to the areas where you have to score. Hopefully that gets him going.”

Boedker said: “It’s two of the best [players] in the league, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Just got to listen and do the things they expect me to do, and make sure that I do them to the highest level.”

The line changes spreads out the Sharks’ speed a little more evenly among their scoring lines. They looked slow in losses to Detroit and the Rangers, especially.

“[Boedker] can bring some things to that line that Tomas maybe doesn’t,” DeBoer said. “Tomas has a great skill set, but this guy can back people off with his speed.”

Hertl will skate at center for the first time since early last January, although he saw plenty of time there in training camp when Thornton and Couture were competing in the World Cup. Last season, he had 15 points (4g, 11a) in 37 games before moving to the Thornton line full time on Jan. 9, where he took off.

The 22-year-old has three points (2g, 1a) in six games this season as a left wing.

“I think Hertl can play anywhere,” DeBoer said. “His game is at that point in his career and he’s a good enough player now that not only can he play anywhere, but I think he can make other people better around him.”

While the line changes will give the Sharks a new look on paper, Couture believes the bigger issue with the team – going back to the third period of Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh – is its compete level. 

“It’s compete and battle and playing the right way that we need to worry about,” he said. “We didn’t play well in Detroit, there’s no way around that. … We just didn’t compete, [and] that’s a frustrating thing, but it’s an easy thing to fix.”

The head coach echoed Couture’s estimation.

DeBoer said: “We have to realize how desperate a team we were last year every night, and the teams that we’re playing are out to hunt us based on our success last year. If we don’t have that desperation level, it’s going to be tough to win.”

The Sharks open a three-game homestand on Tuesday against Anaheim, and host the Blue Jackets and Predators later this week.