49ers' defense exposes loophole in NFL rulebook

49ers' defense exposes loophole in NFL rulebook

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ defense has been exposed in its past seven games.

On Sunday, that same unit exposed the NFL rulebook – and, perhaps, will give the Competition Committee something to consider for the offseason.

The 49ers took advantage of a loophole in the rules that allows the defense to benefit from premeditated penalties in order to allow valuable time to run off the clock.

With :08 remaining in the first half, the New Orleans Saints had the ball at the 49ers’ 13-yard line. Coach Sean Payton decided to take one shot at the end zone.

But New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees never got his chance for a touchdown pass because none of his four receivers could even get off the line of scrimmage.

On the left side of the formation, 49ers cornerback Keith Reaser grabbed receiver Michael Thomas. On the right side, cornerback Tramaine Brock held onto Brandin Cooks. In the slot, Jimmie Ward locked up Willie Snead. And safety Eric Reid left nothing to chance by simply tackling tight end Coby Fleener.

With none of his top four options available, Brees threw incomplete to running back Travaris Cadet, who managed to avoid getting mauled by 49ers linebacker Nick Bellore.

The officials threw flags against Reaser, Ward and Reid. While four seconds ticked off the clock, all the Saints got in return was a 5-yard penalty. New Orleans had no other choice but to send out kicker Wil Lutz for a 26-yard field goal. The nature of the 49ers' penalties eliminated any chance of the Saints tacking on a touchdown before the end of the half.

“We practice all sorts of scenarios at the end of the first half and the end of the game,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said after the 49ers' 41-23 loss. “So we got flagged for a penalty there, which is a 5-yard penalty and then they kicked a field goal. They were (already) in field-goal range.

Kelly suggested the 49ers have worked on that particular situation in practices to familiarize the players with the strategy before implementing it in Sunday’s game.

“There’s a lot of things that we practice in practice that cross our minds,” Kelly said.

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”

49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks


49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks

The 49ers hosted two veteran cornerbacks on free-agent visits the past two days and could be signing either Jaylen Watkins or LaDarius Gunter as they wind down their activity on the free-agent market.

“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “I’ll never say never. We’ve had a couple of guys visit in the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ll do something there. But for the most part, we’re wrapped up and pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

The 49ers do not have much depth behind presumptive starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. The team is also likely to add to its depth in the draft.

The 49ers met with Gunter (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) on Thursday. Gunter, 25, started 15 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He recorded 54 tackles and broke up 12 passes. He signed with the Packers in 2015 as an undrafted rookie from Miami.

Gunter was waived at the beginning of last season and the Carolina Panthers claimed him. He appeared in just four games with Carolina, which did not tender him as a restricted free agent.

The 49ers on Wednesday met with Watkins, 26, a versatile defensive back who appeared in 36 games with five starts in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watkins (5-11, 195) played three snaps on defense and 17 plays on special teams in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. He entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round draft pick from Florida.