Welker poses immense challenge for Rogers

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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.”

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…

Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)

The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”

That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).

Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.

Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)

I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.

I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.

One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.

As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.

But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.

What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)

I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.

But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.

I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

The Sharks placed forward Joonas Donskoi on injured reserve Tuesday, and recalled a trio of players for their game against Los Angeles on Wednesday at Staples Center.

Donskoi has not played since Jan. 11 at Calgary, dealing with an upper body injury that is not believed to be serious. Although he’ll miss his third straight game on Wednesday, the 24-year-old could technically return for Thursday’s home game against the Lightning. In 41 games this season, Donskoi has six goals and 14 points.

Up front, forwards Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow were recalled, suggesting that someone from Monday’s 5-2 win over the Jets might not be able to play against the Kings. Logan Couture blocked a Toby Enstrom shot with about nine minutes to go in that game, and there was no immediate update on his status. The Sharks did not practice on Tuesday morning.

Carpenter has one goal in three games with the Sharks this season, coming on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. He has 20 points (8g, 12a) in 29 AHL games this season. 

Goodrow has yet to make his Sharks season debut, but is first on the AHL Barracuda with 12 goals. He has 15 points (4g, 11a) in 74 career NHL games.

Tim Heed, also recalled, will likely serve as the seventh defenseman filling the void left by an injured Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist).