49ers look to Dial up more tackles for loss

49ers look to Dial up more tackles for loss

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' defensive linemen will not be asked to undergo a change in mentality on third downs this season.

Whereas the 49ers were in a read-and-react mode on first and second downs in the past, this year under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, there is an emphasis placed on getting into the backfield to blow up run plays.

“It’s going to be good,” 49ers nose tackle Quinton Dial said. “It’ll allow me to make some plays and get some TFLs (tackles for loss).”

With the aggressive, one-gap approach on run downs, it also places a premium on maintaining discipline. Last season, the 49ers’ defense was among the worst in NFL history, allowing 2,654 yards and 25 touchdowns.

“If we lose an edge, they can hit a home run on that play,” Dial said.

On the recent day that Dial spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area, he relayed a situation on the practice field on which defensive end Aaron Lynch “lost an edge" when he moved too far inside where he should have been stationed. As a result, the run play went the distance for a touchdown.

Said Dial, “The running back hit his head on the goal post. We all have to be coordinated together and play as a unit.”

Dial was exclusively a two-down player last season. Although he is currently lining up with the second-string defense behind veteran Earl Mitchell, Dial said his goal is to be a man for all downs.

“Being more efficient on third down, that’s what I really want to work on, so I can be an every-down guy,” Dial said.

“Last year, I don’t think I was given a fair shot to do that or coached the right way to use my strengths to use what I got to excel on the field. I don’t think I was used the right way. If you can rush the passer, they’re going to find a way to get you on the field. I’m trying to elevate my game now.”

After recording two sacks in 2014 and 2.5 sacks in 2015, Dial was held without a sack last season while appearing in 14 games. According to Pro Football Focus, Dial was on the field for 187 passing downs and produced nine quarterback hurries.

Dial said he is spending a lot of time working with assistant defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase this offseason to hone his pass-rush skills.

“It’s only like two or three moves, but once I master those moves, you’ll see,” Dial said. “I know everybody labeled me as a first- and second-down player, but I think I can do it."

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.