Kyle Shanahan shows offensive mastery by land and by air

Kyle Shanahan shows offensive mastery by land and by air

HOUSTON – Kyle Shanahan will not be able to bring his Atlanta Falcons players -- or many of them, anyway -- with him to his next job as coach of the 49ers.

But he will bring a unique artistry of offense that should enable him to quickly adapt to the roster he will build along with 49ers general manager John Lynch.

As the Falcons continue preparations to face the New England Patriots on Sunday in Super Bowl 51, an assistant coach who was with Shanahan at previous stops in Houston and Washington marvels at Shanahan’s well-rounded ability to scheme during the week and push the right buttons on game days.

“I’ve never been around a guy who’s as impressive in the run game as the pass game,” Falcons quarterback coach Matt LaFleur told CSNBayArea.com on Wednesday.

“Usually, you have your specialty. You’re a passing guy or a run-game guy. He is off the charts in both areas, and I think that’s what makes him so special. It really helps him as he calls a game. He knows how things tie together.”

Under Shanahan, the Falcons led the league in total offense with 457.5 yards per game during the regular season. Quarterback Matt Ryan’s game soared. The favorite to win league MVP threw 38 touchdowns, seven interceptions and led the league with an astronomical passer rating of 117.1.

The Falcons also were fifth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 100 yards per game.

Running backs coach Bobby Turner spent 15 seasons on Mike Shanahan’s staff with the Denver Broncos. During that time, Shanahan’s run game produced eight of the top 11 single-season rushers in Broncos history. During that time, five different running backs rushed for more than 1,100 yards.

Kyle Shanahan’s design for the run game run game is rooted in what his father did with the Broncos’ zone scheme.

“It’s similar, but every coach and every person has his own stamp,” Turner said. “The bottom line, everyone says it’s the zone principle. But what is the zone? There’s outside zone, inside zone. There’s a stretch. You can have different coaches who work together have different philosophies. Overall, yeah, it’s the same, but Kyle has his own stamp.”

Turner said Kyle Shanahan will use the run game to set up big plays down the field – a goal that’s obviously easier to accomplish with a wide receiver such as Julio Jones lining up outside.

“At times, you can’t run it if they put eight or nine in the box,” Turner said. “It’s tough to run the ball. We might only get a yard on that play. But by doing that, being consistent and continually trying to run the ball, you exploit them through the air with the play-action game.

“Yes, it’s the same philosophy but when it comes down to it, we have players and his ability to put our players in position to make the big plays, he is awesome at doing that.”

One league source described how Shanahan is a master at studying the opposition to find the weak link in a defense. The Falcons set an NFL record with 13 different pass-catchers scoring touchdowns. Shanahan will use formations and motion to isolate the defender in a favorable matchup for his offense. Shanahan seems to thrive on third downs, in particular.

When the Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl with a 44-21 rout of the Green Bay Packers, Shanahan exploited the Packers’ coverage scheme for a remarkable 10-of-13 success rate on third downs.

“He’s got an uncanny ability and a great vision of how to maximize the potential of his players and put them in a position to be successful,” LaFleur said.

“We’re always trying to manipulate leverage or try to isolate some matchups and the best way to do that is to move guys in position, whether it’s motion or whatever, to really have success.”

Shanahan might have met his match against the Patriots. In addition to Bill Belichick’s well-documented defensive acumen, New England has added brain power in defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who chose a career in coaching over aeronautical engineering.

In other words, Shanahan will be playing chess against an actual rocket scientist.

“The tempo of their offense, the speed of what they do, all that stuff, it’s a huge challenge for us to get used to,” Patricia said. “When you see an offense that’s as good as this is and you haven’t seen them live, then it’s a whole different ball game when you step into that arena and you’re actually seeing the speed, the quickness and the tempo that they play with.”

49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future


49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future

The first wave of free agency is over, and the 49ers struck quickly.

The club identified two players coach Kyle Shanahan tabbed as fits for his offense and they paid the money it took to get them.

General manager John Lynch said there were five teams seriously interested in free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon. Even more teams were going after center Weston Richburg, he said.

That drove up the prices on McKinnon and Richburg to the point that they rank behind only quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($37 million) as taking up the most cap space among the 72 players currently under contract to the 49ers.

McKinnon and Richburg account for $10.5 million and $9.26 million, respectively, on the 49ers' salary cap. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's deal takes up $6.175 million on the 49ers' cap this season.

The big spending to attract free agents to the team is likely over. The 49ers have $45.1 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. That figure does not include a projected $8.3 million to sign their 2018 rookie class, according to overthecap.com.

The major spending for this offseason is over because the 49ers have apparently looked to the future and set aside cap space with the idea of retaining some of their own players whose contracts are winding down.

The first decisions for the future must occur by May 3, the deadline for picking up the fifth-year options on first-round picks from the 2015 draft. The 49ers have decisions to make on defensive lineman Arik Armstread and left guard Laken Tomlinson, who was acquired from Detroit in a trade just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season.

It is still unclear how or if Armstead’s skills fit into the 49ers’ defense. He opened last season at the team's pass-rush end before moving to the "big end," which also appears to be first-round pick Solomon Thomas' best position.

Tomlinson showed reasons for the 49ers to be optimistic about his future as his play got better as he acclimated to the offense. Among the guards already on the 49ers’ roster, Tomlinson appears to be the most likely to be a starter in 2018.

Presumptive starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Ward’s fifth-year option deal of one-year, $8.526 million became fully guaranteed last Wednesday. But in order for the 49ers to make a multi-year commitment, Ward would likely have to prove he can remain healthy and available for a full season.

DeForest Buckner is likely the target for the next blockbuster contract extension. Buckner has emerged as one of the top young defensive linemen in the league. Next offseason will be the first time the 49ers are permitted to negotiate a multi-year extension with him.

With a scarcity of offensive linemen available in the draft and free agency, right tackle Trent Brown could be set to cash in with an enormous deal next offseason – either with the 49ers or some other team.

DL Arik Armstead
FS Jimmie Ward
SS Jaquiski Tartt
RT Trent Brown
LB Eli Harold
LG Laken Tomlinson
K Robbie Gould
P Bradley Pinion

DL DeForest Buckner
LT Joe Staley
OG Joshua Garnett
DL Ronald Blair
TE Garrett Celek
RB Matt Breida (RFA)
WR Kendrick Bourne (RFA)

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”