NFC Championship Q&A -- Victor Cruz

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NFC Championship Q&A -- Victor Cruz

The receiver who wasn't even drafted in 2010, who arrived in Giants camp as a free agent that year with little hope of making the team, has been transformed into one of the game's top targets. Victor Cruz made New York's 53-man roster two seasons ago after finishing the preseason leading the NFL with 297 receiving yards, but he spent much of the year on IR. In 2011, the team's No. 4 receiver stepped up following injuries to both Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon and finished with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs.

BOX SCORE: 49ers 27, Giants 20
WR Victor CruzJan. 16, 2012

Q: How proud are you of the win against the Packers?
Cruz: Of course, any time you go on the road against a tough opponent, a team that has gone 15-1 and you go in there and play as well as we did and do all the positive things we set out to do, its something were very proud of and were looking to continue that trend.

Q: How much of a motivating factor is it that you lost to San Francisco earlier in the season?
Cruz: Its very motivating. We understand that game came down to the wire and we were one play away from potentially winning that ballgame. Its a little sweet to go out there and play a team that weve already played and know that weve fought tooth-and-nail with. Hopefully it doesnt come down to the wire, hopefully we can win the game pretty well. As long as we can execute and do all the things we know how to do, well be okay.

Q: Chris Canty recently said that this time of year is all about the guys in the locker room and your teammates, is that true?
Cruz: Most definitely, its all about the moments you spend with the guys and understanding we can do something special. The guys we share it with, the guys on this team have been phenomenal all year. We understand this is a special time for us and we have to take advantage of it and soak in all the time and be ready to play this upcoming weekend.

Q: How important is the momentum the team is riding right now?
Cruz: We are riding a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence. Its great to play with that. Were a scary team right now because of the confidence were playing with and the amount of integrity and amount of passion we are playing with right now. At every position, not just Eli or myself or the defense. Everyone is playing with that same confidence and intensity. We are a scary team right now.
Q: Do you feel unstoppable?
Cruz: Thats a tricky word, but in a sense we do feel like, if were playing like weve been playing, if were executing at a high level the way weve been playing, were a tough team to stop.

Q: How is your injury?
Cruz: I am pretty good, I just got a little helmet to the thigh, but its nothing a little ice cant heal.

Q: What do you take with you from the first game against the 49ers
Cruz: Just the fact that we were able to move the ball pretty efficiently that game. We were going up and down, we had a few turnovers, unfortunately, early on in that game. We felt like we did some positive things. We basically controlled a lot of that game. Were looking to repeat that.

Q: Were you hoping to see them again at some point?
Cruz: We understood that they were a team we could potentially see again and that we wanted to see again in this situation. We got what we asked for.

Q: What does it say that you only need one more win to make it to the Super Bowl
Cruz: It says a lot. We had to battle through a lot of injuries early on this year and a lot of question marks in the receivers room early on as well. Just to overcome that and for guys to shine and step up and play well has been tremendous for our confidence. Weve been building off that ever since.

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spent last offseason working with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics.

Ryan went on to set career-bests in completion percentage (69.9), yards passing (4,944), touchdowns (38), interceptions (7) and passer rating (117.1).

New 49ers quarterback Matt Barkley worked with House and Dedeaux for the fourth offseason in Southern California before reporting to Santa Clara for the team’s offseason program.

“Kyle (Shanhan) is on board with what House and those guys are doing – I think, really, because of the year Matt Ryan had,” Barkley said on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s a believer in that. He saw the benefits of what Matt did with some of his drops and the timing on routes, how he changed his feet on some things. So we’re kind of sticking with that plan. Everyone is a little different, but for the most part we’re all on the same page when it comes to what our drops are looking like, our footwork and how the ball is coming out.”

House is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who founded the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles. Dedeaux pitched at USC and is the grandson of USC baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux. Former NFL quarterback John Beck is a motion mechanics instructor.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are among the NFL quarterbacks who have worked with 3DQB.

“I believe in those guys and what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “They’re at the top of their game, working with Brady and a bunch of other guys. They’ve helped me.

“He won’t change your throwing motion or really tweak how the ball comes out, but he’s going to try to maximize velocity and ground force production and torque -- a lot of sports science terms. But, really, just maximizing efficiency with your motion and making sure you’re sequencing is right.”

Barkley had never played for Shanahan before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. But there are two obvious connections. Barkley’s offensive coordinator last season with the Chicago Bears was Dowell Loggains, Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 when Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. The other connection is House.

"It’s kind of funny, he worked with Atlanta’s staff all of last year, helped Matt Ryan, kind of build his base from the ground up and helped him a lot and he had an MVP year," Barkley said of House.

"There may have been talks down the pipeline, who knows. I don’t think that was the deciding factor by any means, but it never hurts.”