49ers

Moving parts aplenty in 49ers' QB drama

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Moving parts aplenty in 49ers' QB drama

Quarterback Alex Smith did not sign the 49ers' contract offer, which was presented to him weeks ago, because he sought more security from the organization whose coach called him "elite."
If Smith signed the three-year offer, the door would have been open for Colin Kaepernick to take over as the starter at any point without the 49ers taking much of a financial hit from Smith's deal.REPORT: Smith considers firing agent
It was clear that Smith and his agent, Tom Condon, figured their best option was to play the waiting game.Meanwhile, the 49ers began their pursuit of Peyton Manning while feeling secure that their offer to Smith reflected his true market value. After all, which team would be willing to pay Smith more than 8 million a season?Perhaps we'll soon find out.Smith took a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., early Sunday morning to visit with the Miami Dolphins.RELATED: Alex Smith on visit to meet with Dolphins
The Dolphins visited Saturday with free-agent Matt Flynn, who spent four seasons as Aaron Rodgers' backup with the Green Bay Packers. Flynn worked closely with new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who served those seasons as Packers offensive coordinator.And, yes, this whole situation has taken an interesting twist.Davis Hsu, who writes a blog on the Seattle Seahawks, spotted Smith flying first class on his red-eye flight. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel met Smith at the airport early Sunday morning."This is the NFL," Smith told the paper. "I guess nothing surprises me anymore. I never thought a year ago (Peyton) Manning would be a free agent either. I'm never surprised by anything."There are a lot of moving parts right now in this whole 49ers quarterback drama . . . Peyton Manning: A breathless country awaits his decision. He has worked out for the 49ers, Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans. Do the 49ers have a chance? The team kept its defense together. And they've added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to the receiving corps. The 49ers appear to be in the best spot among the Manning contenders to make a Super Bowl bid.Matt Flynn: He has shown to be a capable backup. But his sample size is small. In four seasons, he has two starts. Career stats: 82 of 132 (62.1 percent) for 1,015 yards with nine TDs and five interceptions. He visited the Seattle Seahawks and the Dolphins. The 49ers are not in the mix for Flynn, but his move has an impact on Smith.
Matt Hasselbeck: If Manning signs with the Titans, Hasselbeck will be cut free. The 49ers wanted -- and thought they were going to sign -- Hasselbeck last summer. They'd probably go after him again if he becomes available.Josh Johnson: The former Tampa Bay backup has not been nearly as impressive in his limited action as Flynn. He has a history with Jim Harbaugh (he was his quarterback at the University of San Diego). But it's clear now that a close relationship with Harbaugh means nothing. As should be the case with any coach, Harbaugh simply wants the best player he can get.Colin Kaepernick: The 49ers are infatuated with Kaepernick's physical tools. But is Kaepernick ready? It seems he knows only one speed on his passes, so he needs a lot of refinement to get ready for NFL game action. The 49ers traded up to take him with the 36th overall draft pick last year. Andy Dalton was chosen one spot ahead of him, and Dalton proved he was ready as a rookie with a solid season for the Cincinnati Bengals.Scott Tolzien: He spent his rookie season as the 49ers' third quarterback. He'll get a chance in training camp to earn his way back on the roster, but he is not considered starter material just yet.And, then, of course . . . Alex Smith: His trip to South Florida on Sunday to meet with the Dolphins is his first career free-agent visit. The Dolphins are also pursuing Flynn, though. The 49ers want Manning. But, of course, there is still a chance that Smith returns to the 49ers. Also, the Seahawks could get into the mix. The Seahawks brought in Flynn for a visit. Tarvaris Jackson ended last season as the Seahawks starter. Former 49ers GM Scot McCloughan is a personnel executive with the Seahawks.Ultimately, the market will decide where Smith ends up -- and whether he's a starter, backup or will merely find himself in another training camp competition.

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

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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.”

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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

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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.