49ers notes: Slant pattern makes return


49ers notes: Slant pattern makes return

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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
SANTA CLARA -- Quarterback Alex Smith remained after practice Tuesday evening working with 49ers receiver Braylon Edwards on a pass route that hasn't been seen around these parts in some time.The slant route, a staple of West Coast offenses past, is returning to the 49ers this season under coach Jim Harbaugh.
Smith and Edwards tried two of those patterns in the exhibition opener Friday night against the New Orleans Saints. Smith's first attempt was thrown behind Edwards, resulting in an incomplete pass. The next try was on target for a 12-yard gain.Fourth-year receiver Joshua Morgan said this is the first summer during his time with the team that the slant pattern has been a major part of the 49ers' offense. The 49ers are bringing back the Bill Walsh offense for the first time since Mike McCarthy as offensive coordinator after the 2005 season to become Green Bay Packers head coach.
"That's the first route you learn when you start playing football," Morgan said. "That's the West Coast offense. We ran them in the past, but there wasn't a big emphasis on them like there is now."Morgan said the 49ers' receivers have seen all the film of Jerry Rice and John Taylor catching quick slants, breaking a tackle and sprinting to the end zone. Now, the current group of receivers will try to make their own highlights.
Morgan, Edwards and Michael Crabtree are all likely to benefit from the play, as each is known as a powerful run-after-the-catch threat. Football Outsiders listed Morgan as second in the league last season with an average of 7.2 yards after the catch. Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson ranked first at 7.3."It's like heaven," Morgan said of the sensation of catching a perfectly thrown slant at full speed. "You know you might take it 80 for a touchdown like they used to do here back in the day." CENTER OF ATTENTION: It's the usual training camp ritual. Where is Adam Snyder going to line up today?Snyder, who has played every position on the offensive line throughout seven-year NFL career, is in the mix for a starting job on the line. The question is . . . where?"Right now, I'm focusing on what I'm doing at center," Snyder said. "That's the one position I haven't played much of. And the transition to guard is easier to what it's been playing center."Snyder has been working with the first-team offense at center this summer. But after the 49ers signed veteran free-agent Jonathan Goodwin to a deal that included 4 million in guaranteed money, it's reasonable to assume Goodwin will eventually work his way into the starting role.But Snyder continues to see action at center, while also working into the mix at right guard, where he is challenging Chilo Rachal."I've got a pretty good understanding of the offense," Snyder said. "Having Goodwin here has helped me. He's been giving me pointers. The competition is good. I'm excited about how this is going to end and see who the best five guys are. The road we're taking right now is getting the best five on the field."It was a difficult exhibition-season opener for the 49ers, as Smith and Colin Kaepernick were under constant duress against the New Orleans Saints' blitz. But Snyder has been encouraged with the steps that have been taken to remedy the 49ers' protection problems after the Saints rolled up six sacks and steady pressure.
"It's our job at center to call out the protections and all our calls were on point," he said. "From there, it was breakdowns of technique. Sometimes it's not the offensive line's fault either, but it always falls back on us. That's fine, too. That's just how it goes."Having that film was good for us, seeing where the breakdowns were and seeing what kind of communication happened and talk about it. For the first game, obviously it wasn't what we wanted. We've corrected those issues and looking forward to this Oakland game."

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.