49ers key matchup No. 2: 49ers coverage unit vs. Washington


49ers key matchup No. 2: 49ers coverage unit vs. Washington

This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Thursday, 5:20 p.m. (NFL NetworkKGO-TV, Ch. 7), at Candlestick Park.49ers special teams vs. Seahawks RS Leon WashingtonA year ago, the 49ers won the battle for field position, in large part due to their exemplary coverage of punts and kickoffs.Through six games, any time the 49ers have booted the ball away, it's hold-your-breath time.The 49ers rank 31st in covering kickoffs and they are 30th on punt returns. And they face one of their biggest challenges Thursday evening in slowing down veteran returnman Leon Washington.Washington ranks behind only Minnesota's Percy Harvin with a 31.7-yard average on kickoff returns. Washington is second all-time in NFL history with seven kickoff return touchdowns.If veteran kicker David Akers, who tries to drive his kickoff low and through the end zone, leaves Washington some room to return kicks, the 49ers must do a better job of preventing game-changing plays.One of those such plays occurred at the beginning of the second half Sunday against the New York Giants, who led 10-3 at the time. Rookie David Wilson took advantage of a huge hole formed when the Giants' two-man wedge walled off the 49ers' jumbled pursuit team. Wilson returned the kickoff 66 yards to set up a touchdown that set the tone for the remainder of the game."We know that's our job to cover those kicks and get them contained and get them covered," said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who could not provide a reason for the team's rash of lapses on the coverage units.The 49ers made several offseason decisions that appear to have greatly impacted their coverage units.The 49ers did not attempt to re-sign Blake Costanzo, who was second on the team with 17 special-teams tackles. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Rock Cartwright, who was cut loose during the team's final cuts. Another key contributor, Colin Jones, was traded to the Carolina Panthers for a future draft pick.The 49ers' top tackler on special teams, C.J. Spillman, has yet to record a tackle through six games. The 49ers' top special-teams tackler, Tavares Gooden, has been nursing an elbow injury. He is scheduled to play in Thursday's game.

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’


LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

LeBron James is an avid football fan. He's now an even bigger Colin Kaepernick fan than the sport. Following the Cavaliers' practice on Sunday, James opened up on Kaepernick and his absence from the NFL. 

"I've commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him," James said to ESPN. "Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn't see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature."

James believes the masses don't truly understand what Kaepernick was doing when he first took a knee as a protest against social and racial injustices in America. For his actions, James respects Kaepernick choosing his beliefs over his sport.

"When it's something that's new and it's something that people are not educated about or don't understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge and people are so quick to say that what you're doing is wrong," James said. "For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he's done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that."

Add James to the list of those who believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee last season. The more games he watches, the more James sees the evidence on the wall. 

"I don't represent the NFL. I don't know their rules and regulations. But I do know Kap is getting a wrong doing, I do know that," James believes. "Just watching, he's an NFL player. He's an NFL player and you see all these other quarterbacks out there and players out there that get all these second and third chances that are nowhere near as talented as him. It just feels like he's been blackballed out of the NFL. So, I definitely do not respect that."

Kaepernick, who recently turned 30 years old, appeared in 12 games for the 49ers in the 2016-17 season. Through the air he completed 59.2 percent of his passes and ended the year with 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick also added 468 yards and two more scores on the ground. 

"The only reason I could say he's not on a team is because the way he took a knee," James said. "That's the only reason. I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks -- first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks -- that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let's just be honest."

For his career, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards and 72 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. With his speed as a dual-threat quarterback, Kaepernick has also gained 2,300 yards rushing and 13 more touchdowns. 

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.