49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

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49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Dolphins matchups to watch Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS), at Candlestick Park.

49ers RG Alex Boone vs. Dolphins DT Randy Starks

Tale of the tape
Boone (75): 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, third season, Ohio State
Starks (94): 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, ninth season, Miami (Fla.)

Alex Boone was asked the question that he wouldn't have even considered when last offseason began.

Is it possible your best position is guard and not tackle?

"Whoa," Boone responded.

Why did the question catch him, ahem, off guard?

"Because I never thought I'd be a good guard, at all," Boone said. "To be honest with you, I'm too tall. I'm not built like a guard. But once you adapt to the game and understand the position it becomes a little easier. There are things you have to continue to work on. It's just different. There's not a lot of space to work with, and you got to make it work."

Boone has made it work through 12 games in his first season after receiving word at the 49ers' first gathering of the offseason that he would be converted to a new position. The 49ers already had left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Anthony Davis entrenched as starters.

The weak link of the 49ers' offensive line for years had been right guard, where Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder lined up the past several seasons.

Boone has not merely just held his own. He has excelled.

Pro Football Focus, which grades every player at every position, ranks Boone as the No. 3 guard in the NFL behind left guard Evan Mathis (Philadelphia) and right guard Marshal Yanda (Baltimore).

Boone is coming off a strong game against the St. Louis Rams, and he'll have to produce another good effort Sunday when he is matched mostly against the Miami Dolphins' veteran Randy Starks, one of the top defensive tackles in the league.

Starks, who was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team after the 2010 season, is a versatile player who will pose a challenge for Boone in pass protection. Starks ranks second on the Dolphins behind Cameron Wake with 4.5 sacks on the season. Starks is also stout against the run.

The 49ers must get their run game going, and the Dolphins rank as the league's eighth-toughest defense when it comes to stopping the run. The Dolphins yield just 94.5 yards rushing per game with a 3.7 average. Led by Frank Gore, the 49ers average 5.3 yards per rush attempt.

"Alex, I thought, had one of his best games, if not his best game last week," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "Technically, from an assignment standpoint, everything he did last game was really well. He's come along really well, he's learning every week.

"You see a lot of different styles of defender, a lot of different styles of defense and Alex is the kind of guy we want, a guy that's pushing to get better every week. So he's doing a great job. When he gets out in space, he can get rolling, a bit like an 18-wheeler going down a hill. He did a great job last week on a couple of our perimeter plays."

Boone has found a home at guard for the 49ers. And he might be there for a while. And that's something, when he thinks about it, comes as a surprise.

If and when he ever moves back to tackle, he believes he'll be better for the experience.

"It can make you tougher, being a guard," Boone said. "I always used to think that guards were guys who just sat there and didn't do much and were kind of lazy. But after playing the guard position, it's a tough spot. Guys really try to go through you. They don't try to go around you too much. They just take you down the middle. They're big, thick guys, so you're working every play. It's kind of fun. It's like a fistfight in a phone booth."

Falcons coach Quinn: Kyle Shanahan 'totally nailed that' vs Packers

Falcons coach Quinn: Kyle Shanahan 'totally nailed that' vs Packers

The Atlanta Falcons have provided the 49ers with a window from Friday afternoon through Saturday to meet with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, a source told CSNBayArea.com.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has structured a normal work week to begin preparations to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51, Quinn said at a press conference on Monday. The Falcons will have a day off on Saturday before the team travels to Houston on Sunday.

The 49ers are not allowed to officially hire Shanahan until after the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

Shanahan is the presumptive 49ers coach -- the only candidate remaining among the six whom 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe interviewed. Shanahan's offense rolled up 493 total yards and converted 10 of 13 (77 percent) third-down opportunities en route to a 44-21 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC Championship game.

“I’m really proud of him,” said Quinn, who was hired by the Falcons two years ago after he served as Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator in Super Bowl 49.

“It’s not easy to do when there’s a lot of speculation and things going on outside your world to stay dialed in. I think it’s one that should be commended. Being on point and going for it, he totally nailed that.”

Shanahan is also expected to be heavily involved in the 49ers’ search for a general manager. The two remaining candidates among the nine who previously interviewed are Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton and Arizona vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough.

The 49ers have left open the possibility of adding more GM candidates to the list, according to a source.

49ers, Raiders fans ready to accept Tom Brady as best QB ever?

49ers, Raiders fans ready to accept Tom Brady as best QB ever?

The Super Bowl is designed ostensibly to be a massive trade show with a football game stuck on the end of it, with the idea that the teams and their fan bases who don’t have a dog in the Sunday fight can still amuse themselves by making their own news – as long as it’s very low level and doesn’t steal thunder away from the real reason for the season.

The accumulation of money.

So it is that we must find reasons to care about a game between a team 2,473 miles away and a team 3,099 miles away. After all, what else is a Super Bowl party for?

Well, let’s ignore the obvious Bay Area topics like “Any news on the Raiders moving?” or “What will Kyle Shanahan say about the soul-eviscerating task he is about to undertake?” Instead, let’s ask a third.

Is the Bay Area’s football base ready to face the very real possibility that Tom Brady could become the area’s best-ever quarterback? Yes, better than Joe Montana and his four rings, and yes, better than Ken Stabler and his willingness to fight the power, and yes, better than Aaron Rodgers and Jim Plunkett and . . . well, fill in your favorite blank.

This one is hard for many folks to swallow because, other than the Switzerland of San Mateo (starting at Serra High School and radiating out to Highways 82, 101, 280 and Crystal Springs Road), Brady doesn't resonate here the way a normal favorite son would. He would have been a perfect Raider or 49er. He also would have been a perfect Cardinal or Golden Bear. He would have been part of something that was, for lack of a better term, ours.

Instead, he did his work for geographically evil empires far to the east, and did it obnoxiously well. He went where he was wanted (Michigan) and where he was drafted (New England), grafted onto a coach (Bill Belichick) who could find the best outlets for his gifts as Montana and Stabler and Plunkett and Rodgers did, and has helped construct a ring factory to rival Montana’s and Terry Bradshaw's and dwarf everyone else’s.

And if he can guide these Patriots to a victory in 13 days over the Atlanta Falcons, he will have more rings than any other quarterback ever, and will almost surely reduce the best-ever debate to ash.

Argue all you want, you amateur Spicers, but facts sometimes beat sentiment, prejudice or child-based idolatry, and there is no objective argument a person can make to claim that Brady is merely equal, let alone inferior, to any of the others we have mentioned.

That is, if you’re trying to stack his baggage as a fort against the data.

His detractors will link him to the evils of the Patriot empire (commanding technology, skullduggery and the very air we use to breathe to circumvent the natural order of fair play, honor and dignity, or some equivalent nonsense), or dismiss him, Montana-style, as merely the product of the greatest coach of the age (well, name a great quarterback who didn’t have a great coach, or vice versa). You could even hold his choice of wives against him (which seems even pettier than normal fandom) or his choice of candidates against him (so far, it’s hard to see a countervailing argument here, though it’s only been four days out of an expected 1,461).

But the numbers and jewelry and the raw football data argue more convincingly for Brady than for anyone else – if you’re interested in settling rather than prolonging an argument.

That last part is the key, though, because once engaged, arguments are hard to kill. The development of the alternative-facts movement renders data and logic less important than the depressingly more fashionable “Well I say it’s this instead of that, I’m not changing my mind no matter what you say and I’d rather remain ignorant than consider another idea. Ya wanna fight?”

Now all this becomes moot if Atlanta wins, mostly because nobody is going to advance the idea that Matt Ryan is the best quarterback of all time. Then the arguments remain sprightly and energetic and “my facts v. your facts,” and everyone goes home drunk and satisfied that you didn't annoy the hell out of the other patrons.

But if Brady wins, the argument becomes sullen and angry and unpleasant and “Well I say it’s this instead of that, I’m not changing my mind no matter what you say and I’d rather remain ignorant than consider another idea. Ya wanna fight?” Just to name one.

And frankly, we're already getting a gutload of that as it is.