49ers Mailbag: The battles behind Alex Smith

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49ers Mailbag: The battles behind Alex Smith

Alex Smith's starting position has not been a question in anybody's mind since his play on the practice field during the offseason ended any speculation that free-agent pickup Josh Johnson might have a chance to win the job.And in 13 training-camp practices, Smith has clearly distinguished himself as the 49ers' No. 1 quarterback and, arguably, their most irreplaceable player.That's because the gap between Smith and the next quarterback (whomever that might be) is significant -- in every way.
Colin Kaepernick has the lead for the No. 2 job, but his spot is not entirely secure. The competition for the second and third jobs should lead to some interesting competition over the next three exhibition games.Let's open up the 49ers Mailbag to find out what's on folks' minds . . . Q: Any chance the 49ers keep 4 QBs on the roster? (@robertlong)
I suppose it's possible, but it does not seem likely.After all, seven NFL teams ended last season with two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. Two teams had four quarterbacks. Both of those teams (Oakland and St. Louis) had injuries to their starters, thus they had only three quarterbacks capable of playing.It does not make sense for teams to keep four quarterbacks because, generally, the No. 3 quarterback receives very little practice time.The starter takes virtually all of the practice snaps as the team prepares for the upcoming opponent. The second-string quarterback tries to stay sharp by running the opposition's plays. A lot of times, the No. 3 quarterback will line up at wide receiver and run pass routes on the scout-team offense. Or, he might play defensive back on the scout defense. That's all a No. 4 quarterback would do, too.So, as much as the 49ers like their four quarterbacks, for the overall roster strength, I think they're going to have to make a difficult decision.But here's why it could happen: There's no difference in keeping three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and having another tucked away on the practice squad. Either way, it's four quarterbacks going out to practice.The 49ers would be able to retain a fourth quarterback at the beginning of the year. Then, if they get low on numbers at another position, they could make room by releasing the fourth quarterback at that point.It's not likely, but it's definitely an option.Q: It's early but best guess on 3 QB the team keeps? Scott or Josh? (@DTNCA)
I do believe you're correct in assuming Kaepernick is the front-runner for the No. 2 job. But his job is far from wrapped up.Scott Tolzien made a strong impression on me when I attended the NFL scouting combine in 2011. I thought he was terrific. The knock on him then was that he did not have great arm strength. His arm has gotten stronger since then. I think it's pretty noticeable.The thing I like about Tolzien over Johnson is that he can throw from different arm slots, his accuracy is better, and he does not appear to get rattled when there's chaos around him.The 49ers' coaching staff has done a commendable job of getting all four quarterbacks a
lot of repetitions. Every classroom session, every pre-snap read, every post-snap decision and every throw is evaluated.The 49ers awarded Johnson a 350,000 signing bonus as part of a two-year deal to move from Tampa Bay to the South Bay in March. They certainly did not fork over that kind of money with the intention of cutting him.Right now, I'd still place Johnson as the slim favorite -- but his margin is shrinking.Q: Chances Chris Owusu makes team? (@Es_Terible)
Unless there's an injury or two to the receiving corps, I do not believe Owusu has much of a chance at opening the season on the 49ers' 53-man roster.And that might explain the 49ers' approach with him during training camp. Owusu has been very quiet during camp. He has not gotten much action -- certainly less than the other undrafted rookie receivers, Nathan Palmer and Brian Tymes.Therefore, you haven't read much about Owusu during the practice sessions. And that means the other 31 NFL teams have not read much about Owusu, either. After Thursday's practice, the 49ers will close their workouts to the media. So, perhaps, Owusu will get more reps without "scribes, pundits and so-called experts" taking notes.Also, Owusu was an outstanding kickoff returner at Stanford. The 49ers do not even list Owusu on their depth chart at that spot. On Sunday, Jim Harbaugh said I had a valid point when I asked him why Owusu was not returning kicks.Is that because they do not want to put Owusu in a position to risk another concussion? Or is it because they don't want to give Owusu the opportunity to put a fantastic kick return on film for the other clubs to see? Or, simply, is it because they believe LaMichael James, A.J. Jenkins and Tyms are better?We might have our answer after the final cuts if Owusu clears waivers and the 49ers bring him back to the practice squad.

Marshall: Fuzzy memory of first meeting with Ward due to painkillers

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AP

Marshall: Fuzzy memory of first meeting with Ward due to painkillers

SANTA CLARA – Wide receiver Brandon Marshall supplied 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward with the first learning experience of his NFL career early in his rookie season.

Ward has a vivid memory of the game – just his second in the NFL – and the three touchdowns passes Marshall caught on him to lead the Chicago Bears to a 28-20 victory over the 49ers in the first regular-season game played at Levi’s Stadium.

But Marshall, now a member of the New York Jets, admitted Wednesday to having a fuzzy recollection of that game due to painkillers he was prescribed in order to play in the game. Marshall, an 11-year NFL veteran, was in his third and final season with the Bears.

“Well, I don’t really remember much about that game because, uh, I worked really hard to get back from a high-ankle (sprain) . . . I don’t want to go there,” Marshall said, beginning to laugh on a conference call with Bay Area reporters.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain. I really wasn’t supposed to play. I came back from a high ankle, you know, within 10 days. I was supposed to be out four-to-six weeks. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

Marshall had five receptions for just 48 yards, but he had touchdown catches of 17, 5 and 3 yards while being matched in the slot against Ward, the 49ers’ first-round pick in that year’s draft. That game served as a study guide for Ward.

“Yeah, I watched it a lot,” Ward said. “It was my welcome-to-the-NFL game. Just looking forward to going against Brandon Marshall for the second time in my career.”

Ward will undoubtedly see plenty of Marshall on Sunday when the 49ers face the Jets on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. Marshall may not remember much from facing Ward two seasons ago, but he said he has been impressed with what he sees on film.

“I think he’s really tough,” Marshall said. “He’s tough and he’s crafty and savvy. This is a guy that seems to really study the game and understands his opponent. If you go out there and give him the same release two or three times in a row, nine times out of 10, he’s going to get the best of you. We have to do a better job than him this week of studying film and trying to outwork him mentally.”

Marshall’s revelation that his memory of the 2014 game against the 49ers is clouded due to the use of painkillers comes at a time when Warriors coach Steve Kerr last week said on the Warriors Insider Podcast that he tried marijuana in hopes it would provide relief during the back issues that forced him to take a leave of absence of nearly four months.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

When asked for his stance on whether the NFL should reconsider its position to include marijuana as a banned substance, Marshall received some direction from a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall answered the question, saying that he wants to learn more about the subject.

“I do not have a stance on that," Marshall said. "That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time. I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us -- positives and negatives.”

Chip Kelly: Lessons learned from his late father

Chip Kelly: Lessons learned from his late father

SANTA CLARA – San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly made his strongest statement, yet, about where he stands when it comes to seeking jobs elsewhere.

It is a view of commitment he said he learned from his father, E. Paul Kelly, who passed away on Friday at the age of 87. Kelly returned from his dad’s funeral in Portland, Maine, late Tuesday night.

Kelly held his typical Wednesday press briefing. Afterward, he went to the practice field, where numerous 49ers players greeted him with hugs. Just moments earlier, he guaranteed he will never leave a team while there are games remaining on the schedule.

“I will never leave my job for another job while a season is going on,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that’s fair. I didn’t do it when I was in college. I didn’t talk to anybody in the National Football League until after our bowl game was over.

“I will not leave a team with three games to go because I got a bigger, better deal. That’s not the way I’m wired. “

Kelly added, “It’s one thing I did learn from my dad. I have a commitment. They’ve made a commitment to me and I make a commitment to them. I’m not searching around and looking for other jobs while I have a job."

Despite stating multiple times in recent weeks he would not be returning to coach in the college ranks, Kelly’s name continued to surface in connection with the Oregon job. That possibility officially closed on Wednesday morning, as Oregon hired former South Florida coach Willie Taggart for the job.

Kelly’s father passed away on Friday night. Chip Kelly flew to the northeast to join his family, including his mother, who urged him to coach the 49ers’ game on Sunday in Chicago.

After the 49ers’ 26-6 loss to the Chicago Bears, Kelly returned to Maine to attend the services.

"I think you’re just really thankful for the time we had with him," Kelly said. "He lived a vibrant and long life, 87 years. He touched a lot of people in his life and it was evident to us yesterday when we had the funeral how many people came and expressed their condolences and reached out. He had a huge impact in his life. I think, it’s a difficult time. I think we all feel for my mom more than anything else, but it’s an opportunity to celebrate the times that we had with him and he was just a great man.”

Kelly described his dad as a “life-long learner” who had a “thirst for knowledge, an insatiable appetite for information.”

According to his obituary, which ran in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Paul Kelly taught the four Kelly rules to his kids at a young age:

Rule #1 - Have fun!
Rule #2 - Stick together!
Rule #3 - Love Mom!
Rule #4 -&%$*# Dad!

Chip Kelly has demonstrated a wry sense of humor during his first season with the 49ers. But he said he does not compare to his father.

"I don’t have any sense of humor compared to my dad," Kelly said. "I think he was special in that manner. He just had a zest for life. He was one of the happiest people you ever met.

The obituary also stated Paul Kelly was “a truly devoted San Francisco 49ers fan.”

“My dad’s loyal now," Chip Kelly said. "He knows where his son was. He actually got buried in 49ers gear. He did not want to wear a suit in the coffin. He wore a suit for his whole career as a trial lawyer, but he wanted to wear a 49ers sweat suit when he passed away.”