Harbaugh expects to see Justin Smith


Harbaugh expects to see Justin Smith

Coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday morning on his KNBR radio show that he expects to see All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith back on the field shortly.

Smith exited the game Sunday night against the New England Patriots with an undisclosed left arm or elbow injury in the third quarter of the 49ers' 41-34 victory in Foxboro, Mass.

Harbaugh was vague Monday at his weekly press conference when asked about the severity of Smith's injury. On "The Murph & Mac Show," Harbaugh intimate that Smith's injury is not going to keep him out of the 49ers' lineup on a long-term basis. Smith underwent an MRI examination on Monday.

"I expect we'll see 'The Cowboy,' " Harbaugh said, using Smith's nickname. "Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, yeah, I think the Cowboy will be around. The Cowboy will be saddled up. . . Ropin' and ridin' . . .

"If it's humanly possible, the Cowboy will be out there ropin' and ridin'."

The 49ers (10-3-1) have a big game Sunday night against the second-place Seattle Seahawks (9-5). The 49ers would wrap up the NFC West title with one victory in their final two games of the season. But the 49ers might have to win both games (at Seattle and at home against the Arizona Cardinals) to assure the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round bye.

Smith appeared to sustain the injury while trying to push the pocket backward on a pass play against a Patriots double team on the first defensive series of the third quarter. He remained on the field for two more plays before going to the locker room for further observation.

He returned to the 49ers sideline a short time later and had his left elbow wrapped. However, he could not finish the game. After sitting out the first game of his NFL career in a contract dispute, Smith has not missed a game in his 12-year career He has appeared in 189 consecutive games with 185 straight starts, the top active streak among all NFL defensive linemen.

On Sunday night, Smith said, "I'll do anything I can to play."

General manager Trent Baalke, speaking on his show late Monday afternoon on 95.7 The Game's "Bucher & Towny", was asked it would mean to the 49ers if Smith were out of action for any period of time.

"We'd be kidding ourselves to say we wouldn't be missing anything," Baalke said. "But our mentality here has been and always will be, next man up. They were able to rise to the occasion (Sunday), Ricky Jean (Francois) stepping in, Will Tukuafu stepping in, Clark Haggans in a limited role stepping in. The guys that got a chance to step in, stepped up.

"You saw Ray McDonald come up big, and raise his level in a big game. So we're very confident in the rest of the guys in the locker room. But, certainly, Justin is a big part of this football team and has been for a long time, and he would be missed."

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.