Welker poses immense challenge for Rogers

welker_wes_patriots.jpg

Welker poses immense challenge for Rogers

SANTA CLARA – Carlos Rogers has nothing but dreadful memories of the last time he lined up on the other side of Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and the rest of the potent New England Patriots’ offense.

More than five years ago, on Oct. 28, 2007 while still a member of the Washington Redskins, Rogers saw his club drop a 52-7 decision to the eventual Super Bowl losers. Adding insult to injury – or, in this case, injury to insult – Rogers sustained a disastrous, season-ending torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter.

“Seeing the results of that game – they blew us out, so it wasn’t good,” Rogers said on Wednesday.

Welker, whom Rogers plans on seeing plenty of on Sunday night when the 49ers visit Gillette Stadium, recorded nine catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in that game against the ‘Skins. Although Rogers was knocked from action early, he knows Welker hasn’t become any easier to defend.

The 5-9, 185-pound receiver is third in the NFL in receptions (95) and ninth in yards (1,116). His list of accomplishments hardly ends there, though. The 31-year-old Texas Tech grad has the most receptions in the NFL since 2007 (649); became New England’s all-time reception leader earlier this year; is tied with Jerry Rice with 17, 10-plus reception games in his career; and has 107 straight games with at least one catch.

If he manages to grab hold of five balls against the vaunted San Francisco defense on Sunday, Welker will become the first NFL player all-time with five 100-catch seasons.

What makes him such a threat?

“Number one, his quarterback. Tom makes this offense go,” Rogers said, referring, of course, to Brady.

But there's more.

“Those quick guys like that, when you’re facing those guys, especially with a good quarterback, it’s going to take a lot. Not just me sticking him, it’s going to take [safety] Dashon [Goldson] coming down inside, or some of the d-ends hitting those guys. Giving them different looks. A guy like that, he has experience, too.”

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is confident that Rogers is prepared, but also stressed that stopping Welker won’t fall solely on his Pro Bowl cornerback’s shoulder pads.

“Tremendous receiver. But, Carlos is up for it. He’s equipped for it,” Harbaugh said. “Again, it’s more of a team defense and how they play together than just one guy vs. one guy.”

That includes putting heat on Brady.

“It’s going to take a lot of pressure, Aldon [Smith] and those guys getting to Brady,” Rogers said. “Mix up their looks and get him off his spot, so he’s not just sitting back there baking a cake and picking us apart.”

In a conference call on Wednesday, Welker said of the Niners' D: “They’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of good playmakers, and obviously a really good rush. Their safeties aren’t afraid of contract or anything else, and all-around they’re a great defense. I think it shows.”

The 49ers allow the second-fewest passing yards in the league with 184.7, and since the start of the 2011 season, allow the fewest points-per-game in the NFL (16.3). But, that doesn’t mean they’ve shut down everyone.

In fact, slot receivers like Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola have had success this season against San Francisco. Cruz had six receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ convincing 26-3 win over the Niners on Oct. 14, while the Rams’ Amendola reeled in 11 catches for 102 yards in a 24-24 tie on Nov. 11.

Rogers said: “We know that we’re going to have to step up and play, and play to the end. Brady’s going to make his plays, the offense is going to make their plays, and we’re going make our plays. We just want to make more than them at the end of the game. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Their futures with the Sharks more uncertain than ever, pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are now free to take calls from other teams to gauge their potential interest.

Nothing can be signed with a new team before July 1, and there is a ban on discussing terms of any potential deal. Teams have already reached out to Marleau, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, while Thornton is also reportedly receiving interest around the league.

While they could still return to the Sharks, it’s new territory for both, as neither Thornton nor Marleau has ever tested the unrestricted free agent waters. Most recently, they agreed to three-year contract extensions with the Sharks on the same day – Jan. 24, 2014 – in what was the final year of their current deals.

Whether they return to the Sharks could depend on the length of the deal. If other teams are willing to offer multiple-year deals to Thornton and Marleau, it makes their return to the Sharks less likely – particularly in Marleau’s case. Earlier in the offseason, NBC Sports California confirmed that Thornton was seeking a three-year deal, while Marleau preferred a deal of at least three years.

General manager Doug Wilson’s top priority this offseason is to re-sign goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long term extensions. Those contracts would likely cost the team a combined $12-14 million, and would begin in the 2018-19 season.

There is an added risk to any team that signs a player over the age of 35, as it would be on the hook for the entire salary cap hit regardless of whether that player is active (unless that player is on long-term injured reserve). 

Thornton turns 38 on Sunday, while Marleau turns 38 on Sep. 15.

Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

CHICAGO – After nabbing a center in the first round on Friday, the Sharks added four more forwards and one defenseman to conclude the second day of the annual NHL Entry Draft on Saturday, held this year at United Center.

The Sharks weren’t explicitly trying to restock their forward cabinet, according to general manager Doug Wilson and scouting director Tim Burke, although the club did make two separate moves in surrendering some later round picks to move up in the fourth round (to take center Scott Reedy) and sixth round (to take left wing Sasha Chmelevski).

First, though, it was defenseman Mario Ferraro in the second round at 49th overall. The offensive defenseman was a player that the Sharks targeted, using the pick they acquired from New Jersey last Friday as part of the trade for Mirco Mueller.

“He’s got a lot of speed, offensive guy, exciting,” Burke said. “Puck-moving type of guy.”

Wilson said: “We’re very pleased with the d-man. He’s a very dynamic, athletic guy, great skater. He was a guy that we moved up a little bit aggressively to get because that round, you could see people going after who they wanted. He is a guy that we identified.”

After moving up from the fifth round to the fourth round last Friday, again because of the Mueller trade, the Sharks jumped up 21 more spots in the fourth round by obtaining the Rangers pick at 102nd overall for the 123rd and 174th selections.

Center Scott Reedy is a player that Burke has high hopes for, projecting the Minnesota native as a “second line right winger [with] high-end potential.” Burke pointed out that Reedy, who is friends with first round pick Josh Norris, occasionally played on the same line with Norris for each of the last two seasons with the U.S. Under-18 team.

“He’s a big, strong forward that can play both positions (center and right wing),” Burke said.

Right wing Jacob McGrew, an Orange, CA native, went to the Sharks in the fifth round despite missing all of his first season in junior with a lower body injury suffered in training camp with Spokane (WHL).

“We knew about him before he went up there,” Burke said. “He’s a California kid. … If he was healthy he probably would have gone earlier.”

The Sharks again moved up to snag Huntington Beach native and center Chmelevski at 185 overall, and made their sixth and final pick in the 212th position by taking left wing Ivan Chekhovich in the seventh round. Both players look to have some offensive skill, based on their numbers and Youtube highlights.

Burke was surprised that both players were around so late.

“I thought they had pretty good years and they kind of slipped in the draft,” he said. “We weighed that versus some other more project-type guys, and we thought they had more offense and finish to their game. They just kept sliding, so we took a chance on them.”

Wilson said: “We moved up for the guys we wanted, and then there were some skilled guys at the end that we were surprised were still there. … We’ll go back and take a look how it all went, but we feel, I think, really good about where we ended up with this.”