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.

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.

Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.

“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”

Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.

The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.

“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.

“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”

After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.

As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.

“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”

 

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.

Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.

Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.

“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).

“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”

Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.

Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.

Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.

Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.

There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.

“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”

Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.

“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.

“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”

Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.

“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.

“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”

The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.

Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.

“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.

“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”

During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.

“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”

Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.

Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’

“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”