49ers

49ers review: Defensive line

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49ers review: Defensive line

This is the third installment of a nine-part series that reviews every 49ers player and position group.The 49ers made a decision to re-sign non-starting defensive lineman Ray McDonald to a contract that fellow free agent Aubrayo Franklin, the team's franchise player the previous year, would've gladly accepted. It was a decision that ended up strengthening two positions on the 49ers' defensive line. McDonald, the recipient of a five-year, 20 million deal, was outstanding as an every-down player on the left side of the defensive line. And veteran Isaac Sopoaga moved to the nose tackle, replacing Franklin. He also provided an upgrade. Oh, yeah, and the 49ers' defensive line also featured a guy named Smith -- Justin Smith. Grade: A
Justin Smith -- He was the unquestioned team MVP. He did everything well and should be a top candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was more than just solid. He made every play, he fulfilled every duty. And then he went above and beyond. He gave himself up, taking out two offensive lineman on several occasions, to open the door for Aldon Smith to get sacks. Justin Smith recorded 7.5 sacks of his own, and ranked third on the team with 105 tackles (by the 49ers' count). That's an amazing number for a 3-4 defensive lineman. He ran down speedy wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to force a game-saving fumble at Philadelphia. He batted down an Eli Manning last-chance pass to preserve the regular-season win over the Giants. He man-handled New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod in the playoffs. It's impossible to poke holes in Smith's season.Isaac Sopoaga -- As a nose tackle, a lot of the job consists of dirty work. Sopoaga did not pile up great stats. He was seventh on the team in tackles. But Sopoaga did an excellent job of clogging the middle and keeping offensive linemen from getting to the second level to block inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. The 49ers ranked third in the NFL, allowing just 3.2 yards a carry, on run plays up the middle. That is a direct reflection on Sopoaga's ability to hold the point and stand his ground against the power run game.
Ray McDonald -- Aside from times when he was bothered by hamstring strains, McDonald rarely came off the field this season. There were games in which he played every defensive snap. McDonald worked out daily with Justin Smith during the lockout, so it was no surprise that both men were in the kind of physical condition that would allow them to play so much. McDonald was fourth on the team with 93 tackles. He recorded 5.5 sacks and had a team-high 14.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. McDonald ranked behind only Justin Smith with 62 quarterback pressures and 45 hits on the quarterback. And McDonald was at his best in the NFC Championship Game with 2.5 sacks of Manning.Ricky Jean Francois -- As the top backup across the defensive line, Jean Francois played well when called upon. He started at nose tackle against Tampa Bay and recorded six tackles. He started on the left side against Washington and had five tackles. He saw most of his action at nose tackle during the course of a game to give Sopoaga a break. Next season, he figures to be a bigger part of the rotation, so that the 49ers can give each of their defensive linemen periodic rests throughout a game. Demarcus Dobbs -- The undrafted rookie from Georgia earned his way onto the team with a strong training camp, which included a couple sacks in the exhibition season. He appeared in 12 regular-season games, and saw limited action on defense with just three tackles. Dobbs had a role on special teams, including on kickoff coverage, in the two playoff games. (He also saw one snap of offense but whiffed on a block.) But the 49ers felt compelled to use him in those ways because of his unique skills. After all, it's not often you see a 275-pounder with enough athleticism to run down the field on kick coverage. Ian Williams -- He went undrafted out of Notre Dame, but there was a lot of competition for his services as a free agent. Williams decided to sign with the 49ers. The 49ers kept him around after final cuts to give him a chance to develop. He played in just one game all season, recording a tackle against Tampa Bay on Oct. 9. So he'll get his chance to prove he can contribute in 2012.Will Tukuafu -- He earned a spot on the 53-man roster with a solid training camp. And he was among the five active defensive linemen for the first four games of the regular season. But Tukuafu's season came to an end when he sustained a right wrist injury while blocking on a kickoff return Oct. 2 against the Eagles. He'll be able to participate in the entire offseason program.

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

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AP

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.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

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USATSI

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.