49ers

Q&A with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh

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Q&A with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh met the media in Santa Clara on Wednesday to touch on the New York Giants, Frank Gore's ailing ankle, Alex Smith's place among the NFL's best QBs and make a pick in this weekend's Oregon-Stanford matchup on The Farm:

Q: Do you place any added significance on this game because there could be playoff implications down the road as far as seeding?Jim Harbaugh: Theres great significance to this game. The biggest thing is its the next game. That always makes it the most important game.
Q: What was impressive to you about their win on Sunday against the Patriots?JH: So many things. What a good football team they have. How well they play on the defensive front, same with the offensive line. Just a really good team in the lines. Very good, elite quarterback and the skill position at receivers and backs, outstanding. Just across the board, linebackers, secondary, its an outstanding football team. Very good at special teams, very disciplined team, very physical team. They play well together.Q: How does it affect your preparation not knowing whether Giants WR Hakeem Nicks or Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw will play?JH: Well prepare like theyll play. Well prepare like their backups will play as well, you can only do it that way.Q: David Baas, their center, took part in a player workout that QB Alex Smith ran in June, had exposure to the playbook that you had given Alex at that point. Is that a concern at this point? Would that give him any extra insight that they couldnt get from watching game film and things like that?JH: I dont think so. There are eight games on tape that Im sure they have a good idea of what we do offensively.Q: Verbiage in that wouldnt be a factor, just knowing what he called plays and things like that?JH: David wont be in the huddle prior to the snap. I really dont think that would be. I think they have what they have on tape and thats the bulk of what theyll go off of.
Q: You spoke of the progress that Alex has made. Youve obviously done what a coach should do, blocking schemes and everything. Before this year, did you ever have any contact with him when you were still in the NFL and did you know much about him or just watching films and just reading and listening to people?JH: No, I had not met Alex Smith until I got the job here.Q: So all the stuff floating through the air, you dont pay any attention to that do you? The stuff like he cant play etc.JH: I was looking in through the keyhole, so to speak. I respected him as a player. I think people that know football and understand the game appreciate Alex Smith as a very talented quarterback. Hes every bit the elite quarterback as there is playing in the game right now. Appreciate all the talent that he has and what he brings to our team.Q: By saying that he is one of the elite quarterbacks, if you look at his fourth quarter performances this season is that part of the evidence? Why?JH: Again, its a whole body of work. Theres evidence really however you want to pick his performance apart. Hes playing at a very high level.Q: Is RB Frank Gores ankle at a point where you feel like he wont be limited this week? Has he shown some improvement on it?JH: Im not in Franks skin, never am, and thats always the hard thing when everybody asks me, How Frank is going to be this afternoon at practice? Hows he going to be on Sunday? Its just hard to predict how somebody else is going to feel exactly with any accuracy.Q: Has the training staff given you an update on Franks ankle that gives you any kind of feeling of where hes at?JH: I feel good. I feel good from what Frank has said and that he should be healthy to practice today, we anticipate that, and well go from there.Q: I think hes on pace for the most carries hes ever had in his career. As we go into the second half of the season, are you more cognoscente or careful of giving him fewer carries as the year goes on?JH: Cognoscente of it? Yes.Q: Are the additional carries more a factor of you guys having leads late in the game and your salting out games?JH: That has been a factor. Its an obvious one. Weve had some leads in the fourth quarter, third quarter where you have to run the ball more. Throwing it every down when youre down two or three scores.Q: K David Akers, how impressive has he been over his first eight games?JH: David has been darn near perfect, thats how impressive hes been. I cant imagine theres any kicker thats bringing more to their team than David Akers is this year. Look at the touchbacks, look at the field goals, the degree of difficulty on these field goals, 50-plus, 40-plus. Hes dealt with the wind here in Candlestick, hes kicked such a straight, true ball that the elements havent been a factor. Hes been rock solid on pressure kicks. You factor that degree of difficulty in and hes been darn near perfect.Q: Did you know his leg was this strong? Hes nailed four field goals over 50 and hes gotten all these touchbacks. Did you know he was coming with that much power?JH: We felt like he was the best kicker in the game and hes delivered on that.Q: In the game Sunday, there were several times where you guys had late shifts in the play clock and it seemed sort of rushed. Was it rushed or was that by design to have those shifts so late?
JH: Sometimes theyre designed that way, sometimes you get the look late and make the adjustment.Q: Is there ever a downside to having such a good kicker or a kicker you trust so implicitly that once you get in between the 40 and the 25 yard lines, subconsciously youre not as aggressive as you would be if you didnt trust him as much?JH: No. I dont think theres a downside to having a good kicker.Q: TG Chilo Rachal and CB Shawntae Spencer, those are guys who were regular starters here the past couple of years. Obviously, theyre not in those roles this season. From your point or perspective, how have they handled their new roles this season?JH: Theyve really been team guys, especially Chilo. I really have to take my hat off to him. He is really chomping at the bit to be in there, after practice, before practice. Really on point. His time will come again and he plays and contributes for us in our extra O-linemen package, hes on field goal, hes on kickoff return. Hes preparing like a starter and thats how we think of him. Especially pleased with him.Q: You had said on the radio the other day that you have a new play this week. When you unveiled the name of that play to your offensive team, what was the reaction?JH: They knew. Got a chuckle from the fellas.Q: Was that your idea to institute that name?JH: When we were at Arlington (National Cemetery) and Sergeant Skywalker just finished up talking to the team, he shared about 10 minutes worth of comments with the team. On the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. When he was done, Wide Receivers Coach Johnnie Morton and I looked at each other and go we need a skywalker and its got to be good, its got to be a good one, a good play.
Q: Hell be on the sideline for the Baltimore game?JH: Yes.Q: Will you have a chance to watch Stanford vs. Oregon on Saturday night?JH: Should be able to. We have meetings on Saturday night, but well have the TV on.Q: Who do you like?JH: I like Stanford.Q: It seems like the offense, other than the one 30-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Miller, hasnt had that quick strike ability that we saw in Philadelphia or Tampa Bay. Game plan can determine that. Is there anything in particular as to why over these past two games (inaudible)?JH: No, not one thing. Well just keep working on our quick strike ability and see if we cant get that better.Q: But has it been not a concern or something youve been looking at?JH: Yeah were trying to improve in all areas, see where the heck we can get a mile an hour faster and a percent better each day. Thats the way we go about things, thats the way our players go about them.
Q: Whats the challenges of facing the Giants front four? What makes them so good?JH: They are just fast, physical, up-field, strong men. Just strong people, that are very athletic. Thats a formidable combination. Our line is good, too. Weve got a good offensive line. Thats going to be two opposing wills that are going to be meeting each other in this ball game and it will be outstanding to watch our guys compete in that kind of environment.Q: Are they the most talented team youve played thus far?JH: Dont make a lot of comparisons from one team to the other. This is the most important game because its the next game. Expectations are well have a great day of meetings and practice in preparation for this big game.

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.