49ers

Could 49ers linebacking corps be best of all-time?

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Could 49ers linebacking corps be best of all-time?

SANTA CLARA Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has been around good linebacking groups before.

In fact, as the coach of that position for the New Orleans Saints from 1986-94, an argument can be made he coached the best assemblage of all-time in Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson and Pat Swilling.

Could the current 49ers group of Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks be mentioned in the same breath as that legendary Saints quartet, by the time all is said and done?

Before I start answering any questions about comparing those groups, these guys need to be together a little bit longer. Maybe next year at this time Ill give you a good answer, Fangio said, with a slight smirk.

He continued: You get good players playing together in the same system for that long of a period, good things are going to happen. They learn each other. Things become second nature. The first time they have to communicate a tough situation, isnt the first time anymore. Its the third, fourth, fifth.

Its the spoken communication and the unspoken communication.

That celebrated Saints group was together for seven years from 1986-92, and combined for 18 Pro Bowl appearances. Now that Bowman is locked up for the foreseeable future after he agreed to a five-year extension on Tuesday, the 49ers linebackers will be together until at least 2015.

Any talk that they might become one of the fiercest linebacking groups of all-time is still extremely premature, according to Fangio. After all, Brooks and Bowman are in just their second years as starters, while Smith is starting for the first time this season.

But, it's possible.

I think the potential is there, but weve got to do it. We all know what the word potential means. The Saints did it for seven straight years together, this is really our first year together as a starting unit, he said.

Willis, the veteran of the group, doesnt want to think too far ahead, either. After all, the 49ers are in the middle of what could be a Super Bowl season, standing second in the NFC with a 8-2-1 record as they head to St. Louis this weekend.

He wants to take care of more immediate business.

Right now, all I can think about is just taking advantage of the opportunity now. Not banking on next year, and the year after, and the year after, Willis said on Tuesday after the Bowman extension was announced. You know, things happen and you never know about this business. All we can control is right now.

Bowman said: Right now, were just worried about this year, but we really have a chance to do something special. We have all four linebackers being here, for sure, for the next three years. We can definitely make a great statement for ourselves, and a great legacy for our defense.

REWIND: So happy together -- Bowman, Willis paired through 2016

As opposing offenses prepare to face the ferocious 49ers defense, both now and in future years, Fangio issued a warning for receivers coming across the middle.

If they watch enough film, theyll see that there are some land mines in there that they might step on, he said.

San Franciscos team defense ranks second in the NFL, but had a game it would like to forget just three weeks ago against the Rams.

The start in particular was troubling, as St. Louis jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead on two long drives before San Francisco came back to salvage a 24-24 tie.

Theyll be much more prepared on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, according to defensive tackle Ray McDonald.

They came out intense. We didnt come out the way we usually do, McDonald said. A lot of guys, weve been talking about it since that game. Well talk about it today in the walkthrough, like, hey man, we cant come out like we did the last time we played them because they outplayed us the last game.

If we do that out there in St. Louis, well get our butts whipped.

Fangio gave a tip of his hat to the Rams for their blocking, which allowed them to gain 159 yards on the ground, including 101 from Steven Jackson.

It was a low point because they blocked us, and they ran the ball extremely well against us. Give them credit, their o-line, tight ends and backs blocked us and ran the ball harder than we were able to defend at that time, so give them credit, he said.

McDonald said the rough start was just something that every team experiences at least a few times throughout a 16-game season.

You dont want to make excuses, but every team goes through it, he said. You have those weeks sometimes. Its a long season; sometimes youre going to be down. But you have to limit the weeks youre down, because if you dont, you end up with a losing record.

McDonald weighed in the biggest point of conversation surrounding the team right now, addressing quarterback Alex Smiths removal from the starting lineup in favor of Colin Kaepernick.

Were a team. Whoever is back there, were going to support him. If Kap is back there, well support him 100 percent. Were about winning football games here, and the best player will play, McDonald said.

Still, he feels for Smith, who was only removed from the lineup when he got hurt against the Rams and who met with the media earlier Thursday morning.

I mean, it does suck to kind of lose your job to injury. But, I mean, that happens in the NFL. Guys will move on, guys have mouths to feed, guys want to win championships. You have to kind of put that in the back of your mind.

Long supports Eagles teammate, wraps arm around him during anthem protest

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USATSI

Long supports Eagles teammate, wraps arm around him during anthem protest

Chris Long supported his teammate, Malcolm Jenkins, Thursday night by wrapping his left arm around Jenkins, who continued to raise his right fist in protest of racial injustice during the national anthem prior to the Eagles' preseason game against the Bills at Lincoln Financial Field.

Long's intention Thursday night was not immediately known. While he's been outspoken on Charlottesville, Virginia, he did not specify how he would conduct himself during the anthem.

Long and Jenkins both publicly criticized President Donald Trump's response to the racial tensions that resulted in the tragic violence and the death of Heather Heyer last weekend in Charlottesville, Long's hometown.

Last Sunday, Long touched on his comments by speaking to reporters, reiterating his disappointment in President Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, where white nationalists held a "Unite the Right" rally in protest of the removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

"Some people are tired of hearing me tweet because they want me to stick to football but I like to use social media like I was a regular guy because I think I am," Long said Sunday. "I don't tell people to stick to their job when they want to talk politics. And this isn't political. That's the thing. Everybody is trying to turn this political. This isn't a political issue. This is right or wrong. I believe you're on one side or the other. For me, being from Charlottesville, no one wants to see you sit idly by and watch that stuff happen and not say anything. And I wish there was more categorical denial from some very important people in this country who have had the opportunity to strike it down but didn't."

READ MORE AT CSNPhilly.com

Practice report: 49ers passing game looks much improved

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AP

Practice report: 49ers passing game looks much improved

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ passing game has ranked 29th or lower in each of the past four seasons.

If two practices against last year’s No. 1-ranked pass defense are any indication, the 49ers could be vastly improved under coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Brian Hoyer.

“I think our guys were expecting to do good,” Shanahan said on Thursday after a second joint practice against the Denver Broncos in two days. “There’s a lot of stuff we can clean up. A lot of stuff we can do better. But I think our guys were happy with how they competed and, hopefully, that can continue to carry over.”

Hoyer hit more higher-percentage passes on Thursday. He teamed up with rookie Victor Bolden on his deepest completion -- down the left sideline against first-team All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris. After completing better than 80 percent of his passes against the Broncos a day earlier, Hoyer was 12 of 19 passing on Thursday.

Pierre Garçon, who figures to be Hoyer’s top target, was not as active during Thursday’s practice. But he did find himself in the middle of the action with a tussle against Harris.

Hoyer’s red-zone pass intended for slot receiver Jeremy Kerley was tipped and intercepted by safety Justin Simmons. Away from the action, Aqib Talib blocked Garçon, who retaliated by tossing him to the ground.

“That’s part of the game,” Garçon said. ‘You always expect one scuffle in joint practices. But it ended and you move on. It was nothing personal at all.”

Hoyer was especially sharp during the practices to strengthen his grasp on the team’s staring job. Meanwhile, rookie C.J. Beathard had a solid showing on Thursday. He will enter Saturday’s game after Hoyer and could play through the rest of the first half and open the third quarter.

The 49ers exited the field after their two most-significant practices feeling optimistic about where things stand.

“We did good the first day,” Garçon said. “We could’ve done better the second day. But we’re still learning each other and getting better. We still have a lot to do to get ready for the regular season, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

QUICK SLANTS
--Linebacker Reuben Foster wore shoulder pads and took part in all but the contact drills due to what the team described as a “mild AC joint sprain” of his right shoulder. That did not prevent Foster from getting into the middle of a skirmish that appeared to involve Broncos tackle Menelik Watson and 49ers linebacker Eli Harold.

The 49ers expect Foster to play Saturday night, Shanahan said.

--Linebacker NaVorro Bowman was pulled from practice on Thursday after experiencing soreness in his shoulder. Shanahan said Bowman's shoulder soreness is similar to what Foster experienced.

--The Broncos’ offense, which struggled to complete passes on Wednesday, made a lot more plays down the field on Thursday with Paxton Lynch at quarterback.

--Tight end Vance McDonald made an outstanding catch of a Hoyer pass at the sideline against tight coverage from safety Will Parks.

--The 49ers’ practice Thursday brought an official end to the team’s training camp. They will transition to a regular-season type of schedule next week leading up to the team’s third exhibition game, which is scheduled for Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings.

“Training camp is over, and what that means is we’re not all staying in dorms together and we’re not having night walk-throughs,” Shanahan said.