49ers

Chargers fire ex-49ers coordinator Manusky

634158.jpg

Chargers fire ex-49ers coordinator Manusky

SAN DIEGO (AP) The San Diego Chargers fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on Thursday after just one year on the job and replaced him a few hours later with linebackers coach John Pagano.

The shake-up came four days after the Chargers finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the second straight year, and two days after coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were notified by team President Dean Spanos that they will return next season.

Pagano is the brother of Chuck Pagano, defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

Pagano said the moves were shocking because he considered Manusky as close as a brother.

"It's a bittersweet day," Pagano said." I'm excited about the opportunity, don't get me wrong, but I love him very dearly."

Turner defended Manusky -- who served as the 49ers' defensive coordinator from 2007-2010 -- at his final news conference of the season on Monday, saying he didn't consider the hiring of Manusky a mistake, as some in the organization reportedly felt.

"Under the circumstances, he and his staff have done a good job,'" Turner said, suggesting that the Chargers lack impact players.

The Chargers' defense wasn't as aggressive as promised by Manusky, a former NFL linebacker who coached Chargers linebackers before serving as San Francisco's defensive coordinator from 2007-10.. The Chargers did lack impact players on defense, in part because of injuries but also because top draft picks over the years haven't panned out.

San Diego routed the Ravens at home on Dec. 18 to keep its playoff hopes alive, then was eliminated from postseason contention in a sound defeat at Detroit on Christmas Eve.

After that game, Turner said: "The biggest question is how can you play so well against Baltimore, then not play well against Detroit? A lot of it is matchups; a lot of it is the style of offense. We have not played well against a wide-open spread offense, whether it be Green Bay or the way Chicago played us and threw the ball. Defensively we've struggled against teams that spread us out and used three or four wide receivers."

Turner denied that Manusky was a scapegoat.

"Obviously, when you make a change, that's a natural thing that people assume," Turner said Thursday. "I think we looked hard at what we need to do to move forward. We made a decision about what was the direction I wanted to go, we wanted to go. John was a part this defense for a long time, and I think he'll do a good job at it."

Pagano interviewed for the job last year before the Chargers gave Manusky a two-year contract to replace Ron Rivera, who left to become head coach of the Carolina Panthers.

"I don't know if our philosophies are that much different. We both kind of learned under Wade Phillips," Pagano said, mentioning the former Chargers' defensive coordinator. 'This was a dream of mine to become the defensive coordinator here. I've worked many years here and it's something I've always looked forward to. ... We've just got to play better and play smarter. See the ball and go tackle the guy with the ball and good things will happen."

Pagano won't label his style.

"There's no signature. I don't have that attacking style or this or that. We're going to put pressure on the quarterback. We've got to create turnovers and we've got to play hard."

Turner said Pagano will bring a mix of what he learned under Phillips, Rivera and Manusky.

"We do know we need to get better on third down," Turner said. "We fell off a great deal there. That will be a big part of our emphasis."

Pagano spent the last 10 seasons on San Diego's staff and has coached linebackers since 2005.

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

ahkello-witherspoon-knee-49ers-chargers-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

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.”

* * *

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

pierre-ap.jpg
AP

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.