Backups take spotlight in 49ers' exhibition finale


Backups take spotlight in 49ers' exhibition finale


SAN FRANCISCO -- Jim Harbaugh said he did not need the reassurance of seeing what he saw Thursday night from his backup quarterback.But the fact Colin Kaepernick looked in complete control in the 49ers' 35-3 victory over the San Diego Chargers carried a little more weight than a typical exhibition finale."Knowing was against their starters makes you feel a little better about it," Kaepernick said.The 49ers scored touchdowns on the Chargers' starters on the first two possessions of the game, including Kaepernick's 32-yard scoring pass to tight end Delanie Walker.Kaepernick demonstrated his tremendous arm strength when he rolled left and hit Walker along the left sideline. Walker broke a tackle attempt from strong safety Atari Bigby to get into the end zone.In the second quarter, Kaepernick hit A.J. Jenkins on a 12-yard touchdown pass after buying time with a roll to his right.Kaepernick completed 12 of 18 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 131.2."Tonight, I felt like I went out and just played," Kaepernick said. "This preseason I felt more and more like that. Tonight was the first time I really got to go out and cut it loose and see what plays I could make."Quarterback Alex Smith took the first five snaps of the game -- all handoffs -- before handing off to Kaepernick. Smith is firmly entrenched as the starter, and Kaepernick showed there's reason to have confidence in his ability as the undisputed backup."That's not a new feeling," Harbaugh said. "It's something we've been comfortable with now for months, the course of this whole offseason. All of our quarterbacks. We feel like all four can play in this league for a long time."Josh Johnson, in a battle with Scott Tolzien for the No. 3 job, enjoyed his best performance of the exhibition season. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 132.4.Undrafted rookies Nathan Palmer and Garrett Celek scored on Johnson's touchdown passes of 51 and 3 yards. Palmer took a quick hitch and outran the Chargers' defense for his third-quarter touchdown.Meanwhile, Tolzien completed just 3 of 8 attempts for 42 yards and an interception.When asked if it's possible the 49ers could keep all four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster to open the season, Harbaugh answered, "Yes, it's an option."General manager Trent Baalke will have to make that call by Friday, 6 p.m., the NFL deadline for teams to trim rosters from 75 players to 53.The 49ers relied on their backups Thursday, and as a result should be near full strength for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at Green Bay. The 49ers did not play any of their defensive starters. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who has not played since sustaining a right hip bruise in the first exhibition game, could have played, Harbaugh said.Running back Frank Gore did not play, and the team held out wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Kyle Williams, along with Ted Ginn (ankle) and Mario Manningham, who attended his grandfather's funeral.The backups -- offensively and defensively -- stepped up. And Harbaugh said the decisions on the 53-man roster will be even more difficult based on the performance of players up and down the roster on Thursday:--Will Tukuafu started at left defensive tackle. He also played fullback on seven of the 49ers' snaps on their 11-play opening drive. He cleared the way for Anthony Dixon on a 1-yard touchdown run, which Harbaugh called "probably one of the best isolation blocks I've seen at the goal line."--Linebacker Michael Wilhoite saw his first action on offense, as he played several snaps in the second half at fullback. He also had two tackles on defense. "He's physical," Harbaugh said. "He has athleticism to adjust in tight spaces. He's smart, plays low, plays quick. He hasn't has as much training as Will but he's capable of doing that."--Safeties C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson and Darcel McBath combined end the Chargers' first two drives of the games with turnovers. San Diego's first-team offense played two possessions. Spillman stripped tight end Antonio Gates of the ball after a 13-yard reception. Robinson scooped up the fumble and returned it 22 yards. McBath entered as an extra defensive back for his first snap of the game and he intercepted a Rivers pass intended for Malcom Floyd.--Jenkins led the 49ers with four receptions for 59 yards, including his 12-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick. "It's a real good thing to get in a rhythm and just playing ball like I was in college," he said. "I was having a great time."--After the 49ers waived third- and fourth-string centers Chase Beeler and Jason Slowey this week, they started working guard Joe Looney at center. Looney entered the game at left guard, and moved to center in the second half. He had not played center since his sophomore year of high school, he said.--Running back LaMichael James had an up-and-down day. He carried five times for 27 yards and averaged 30.0 yards on two kickoff returns. But he lost his fight to the Candlestick winds while attempting to return punts. He bobbled one punt and muffed two others. He recovered both of his fumbles.

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.

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


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.