James helps 49ers coverage unit prepare for Sproles


James helps 49ers coverage unit prepare for Sproles

NEW ORLEANS -- Leon Washington had nowhere to run. Patrick Peterson could not get anything going. Danny Amendola was swarmed. And Devin Hester, one of the top return men in the game, was held to negative yardage.The 49ers' coverage units appear to have things figured out after a rough beginning to the season."I was going in for extra meetings with (special teams coordinator) Brad Seely because I was unhappy with my play in the beginning of the season and I was trying to pick my game up," said Tavares Gooden, one of the team's core special-teamers.
Gooden has picked up his game. And he is not alone.C.J. Spillman is playing at a high level, and so are Tramaine Brock and Bruce Miller, as well as defensive standouts NaVorro Bowman and Dashon Goldson.Gooden credits the 49ers' improved play on special teams to chemistry."Guys have played a few games together," Gooden said. "The special teams units were basically separated due to some things going on in the offseason. We had four of five new guys on the team added, and we had to learn how to play off of each other. And I think we're getting better."The 49ers did not re-sign Blake Costanzo and Reggie Smith, two of the team's top contributors on special teams last season. And the team traded Colin Jones on the day of the final cuts."I knew we had the right coach," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I knew we had the right guys on the teams. And I think that effort, that hard work, that creativity, opportunistic approach and just working together has paid off. Practice has made the guys better."In the past four games, Andy Lee's punts have been covered about as well as possible. Washington had five yards on two returns in the 49ers' win over Seattle. Peterson managed just 15 yards on four returns for Arizona. Amendola had three returns and totaled just 14 yards in the tie against St. Louis, and Hester had minus-1 return yard on three punt returns, as the 49ers blew out Chicago.During that time, the 49ers have allowed an average of just 20.9 yards on returns of David Akers' kickoffs.
The 49ers feel prepared to face explosive New Orleans Saints return man Darren Sproles because of a week of practice that included chasing around rookie running LaMichael James.James, a second-round draft pick, has not suited up for a game this season. At practice he wore No. 43, playing the role of Sproles, who is expected to return to action after missing three games with a hand injury."LaMichael James has been helpful," Gooden said. "If Sproles is playing, we'll be ready for him."He looks the same to me. Both of the guys are short and have those quick movements. He's been working with us all week running routes and getting us prepared."James is also benefiting from the experience, Harbaugh said."He's been a wide receiver a lot of times in practice and running back coming out of the backfield," Harbaugh said. "His hands have improved so much and his route-running ability. I think it was quite a good look for our defense this week with LaMichael."James struggled in training camp and in the exhibition season catching punts. When asked how he is doing in that discipline, Harbaugh answered, "He's still coming along, still coming along ... Kickoffs are a little easier than the punts."

Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium


Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium

SANTA CLARA -- Dwight Clark and Joe Montana are scheduled to address the crowd Sunday at Levi’s Stadium at halftime of the 49ers’ game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It should be an emotional day, as 36 members from the team that defeated Dallas in the NFC Championship Game and went on to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title are expected to attend.

Montana is scheduled to be surrounded by his former teammates and speak from the field at halftime. Clark is likely to be situated in a suite, where he is expected to make some remarks. Clark, 60, announced in March he was diagnosed with ALS.

Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross, appearing on the 49ers Insider Podcast, said he is looking forward to seeing so many of his teammates from the squad that served as a springboard for five Super Bowl titles under the ownership of Hall of Famer Eddie DeBartolo.

“I can’t wait to see (Clark),” Cross said. “I can’t wait to see Eddie. I can’t wait to see Joe. There is a core group of guys I’ve gotten to see a few times a year since we all went our separate ways. There are guys I’ll get a chance to see, in some cases, (for the first time) since almost around the time we parted ways in the early-‘80s.”

The NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982, is best-remembered for “The Catch” – Clark’s leaping, finger-tip grab of a Montana pass for a 6-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining.

The 49ers defeated the Cowboys 28-27 at Candlestick Park. Coach Bill Walsh’s team went on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.

“For those of us who played on the Niners charity basketball team with both Joe and Dwight, and knowing their hoop skills and the way they could jump, we weren’t terribly surprised at: A, how high he threw it; and, B, how high Dwight got,” said Cross, who was blocking from his right guard position near the sideline and had an unobstructed view of the play.

“If Dwight got his fingers on it, it was going to be a catch. That was the thing about D.C., you won’t find too many instances in which he had a ball on him or near him that he dropped. There wasn’t much doubt.”

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Kyle Shanahan is, self admittedly, not a patient person. As he watched quarterback C.J. Beathard run the scout team over the last couple of weeks -- how he visualized an unfamiliar play, went through his progressions and handled the defensive coverages -- the head coach saw rapid improvement every day. But he suppressed any urge to play the rookie before he was ready.

“I tried to wait for the right time for him and the right time for the team,” Shanahan explained.

Down 14-0 to Washington halfway through the second quarter with starter Brian Hoyer struggling, Shanahan knew Beathard’s time had come.

“I felt the team needed it right then,” Shanahan said. “It also made me more confident to do it because I thought he was ready for it, also.”

Moments after the game was over, Shanahan named Beathard the starter. Watching the game tape on the flight home only bolstered his decision.

“By no means was he perfect, missed a couple of things, but that always happens,” Shanahan said. “I thought he came in there, didn’t hesitate, competed. The moment was not too big for him. Made a few plays in rhythm, made a few off schedule plays and was a big reason we got back in that game.”

Beathard led the 49ers on two scoring drives and finished 19-of-36 with 245 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception, though it came on fourth-and-20 on his final pass attempt of the game. On his 45-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson, Beathard extended the play when the fifth year receiver wasn’t where he expected him to be.

“He was supposed to go to the post for a certain coverage, and they had a busted coverage, so he just hung out there which is why C.J. didn’t see it right away,” Shanahan explained. “We had enough protection where he could take a couple more hitches. He drove the pocket and saw where Aldrick was, and he didn’t hesitate. Made that throw with that arm strength.”

Shanahan smirked at his not-so-subtle dig at those who questioned Beathard’s arm strength during the draft process. He sees a quarterback who can make all the throws, and make them from the pocket, and scramble when he needs to. All he needs now, Shanahan contends, is experience.

“It’s about playing in the game and reacting to defenses, reacting to coverages, reacting to adjustments. He’s going to see a lot of things he hasn’t seen before, and that will change each week. It will probably change each quarter.”

Helping Beathard continue to grow through those experiences will require patience, but in this situation, it’s the kind the head coach can handle.

“You’re never going to get a quick answer. You see over time, but he’s got the ability to do it. He’s got the mental toughness to do it. I think he will get better the more he plays.”