Boone, 49ers have hands full with Wilfork

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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.”

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center over the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been one of the few effective Sharks players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

* * *

Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”

Sharks' Haley suspended one game for punch on Jarnkrok

Sharks' Haley suspended one game for punch on Jarnkrok

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Micheal Haley has been suspended one game for punching Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok on Saturday in San Jose’s 7-2 loss, and will miss Tuesday's home game with the Rangers.

After absorbing a borderline hit from behind into the glass by Jarnkrok, Haley tracked down the Predators forward and promptly delivered a left jab to Jarnkrok’s face at 12:56 of the final frame. He received a match penalty for intent to injure on the play.

According to the video released by the league, Haley “was seeking retribution” for the hit by Jarnkrok, who was already being penalized for boarding, and delivered a “forceful punch on an opponent who was not able to defend himself at the time.”

The 30-year-old Haley, who has never been fined or suspended before in his career, gave his perspective of what happened on Monday.

“We were breaking out there and next thing I know I was face first in the glass,” Haley said. “Just emotions [took over]. Kind of scared from the hit and I just went after him. Looked at him right in the eyes. He saw me. By the time I swung at him his face might have turned a bit. When I went at him I saw him clearly look at me, and I thought he knew I was coming.”

Haley expected Jarnkrok to engage him after the Predators forward delivered the bad check.

“I thought it was a pretty dirty hit, and I thought I gave him ample amount of time. I think he [had] enough time to know what I was trying to do, and trying to get him to fight.”

He added: “In hindsight, I wish none of it happened. I wish I didn’t get hit and I wish I didn’t punch him, but it happened. I don’t think I started it. It wasn’t premeditated or anything. If I missed that punch then we probably don’t have this conversation.”

In 54 games this season, Haley has two goals and nine assists for 11 points. His 110 penalty minutes is fifth in the league.