Quarters coverage: 49ers-Saints in exhibition opener


Quarters coverage: 49ers-Saints in exhibition opener

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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
NEW ORLEANS -- Coach Jim Harbaugh has paced the 49ers through 11 practices.That's 33 hours devoted to practice and evaluations over the past two weeks. So anything that happens in the 49ers' exhibition opener Friday night against the New Orleans Saints will merely be an addendum to what Harbaugh and his staff have already seen, he said.
"As far as evaluations go, it'll mean something that it's a game," Harbaugh said. "But I don't think it'll mean as much as the 11 practices we've had under our belt right now. It'll augment it, definitely. But what these guys have been doing and what they're working on, those things to me kind of tip the scales."Still, there should be plenty to watch throughout the "game" . . . First quarter
There's this guy -- Alex Smith is his name -- who will enter the huddle with the 49ers' first-team offense as the quarterback. It's certainly no make-or-break game for Smith, who somehow remains with the organization for a seventh season. But Smith can make things a lot easier on himself by getting off to a good start in the exhibition season. The starters are expected to play about 20 snaps. At least that's what Harbaugh said earlier this week. How much will running back Frank Gore play? With a contract extension in the works, it goes to reason that Gore would not see much action with Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter, Xavier Omon and Seth Smith all available for duty. Right tackle Anthony Davis struggled in road games last season. Although it's only an exhibition game, we'll see if Davis does a better job of handling crowd noise and locking quickly into his pass-block sets. Defensively, the 49ers are looking for left cornerback Carlos Rogers to provide an upgrade over Nate Clements. He'll get his first chance to show what he can do. Also, Ray McDonald takes over as the starting defensive end after signing a five-year, 20 million contract to return to the club with more responsibility.Second quarter
Harbaugh said quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the most "game ready" of all the team's rookies. Perhaps we'll find out. He is making the difficult transition from college to the pro game without the benefit of the months of coaching in the offseason that rookies are generally afforded. Let's start with the basics. Kaepernick is still working on taking snaps under center. Also, Kaepernick's first reaction in college was to take off running to produce big yards. At this level, it's important that he remains in the pocket and learns that it's not a bad thing to just throw the ball away when nothing is there. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin, who started for the Saints the past three seasons, will probably enter the game as Adam Snyder's backup. He is getting close to taking over as the starter. First-round pick Aldon Smith and third-round selection Chris Culliver will get plenty of action as they maneuver for significant roles for a pass defense that ranked 24th in the NFL last season. Smith has shown good pass-rush moves as an outside linebacker, and Culliver has held up well in coverage against his teammates.
Third quarter
Rookie offensive linemen Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person will see a lot of play time. Kilgore has lined up mostly at left guard, while Person has been working at right tackle. Undrafted rookie Chase Beeler is the only player on the roster, aside from Goodwin, who has significant experience at center. He'll get his chance to show what he can do. There are some spots available at inside linebacker. Navorro Bowman has the inside track to start alongside Patrick Willis. Larry Grant, Keaton Kristick, Blake Costanzo, Alex Joseph and Scott McKillop are also slated to see action. McKillop was the subject of an erroneous transaction Friday on NFL.com that listed him as being "cut." The team says McKillop was never cut, and NFL.com eventually removed the listing. Still, he knows his spot on the team in tenuous. Special teams will play a huge role in which inside linebackers make the 53-man roster.Fourth quarter
The 49ers have been up front about contacting teams around the league to see if there is any interest in a trade for safety Taylor Mays. He is likely to see action in the second half. There is pressure on Mays to make some plays to convince the 49ers -- or some other team -- that he has a future in the NFL. Donte Whitner, Madieu Williams and C.J. Spillman are expected to see action ahead of Mays. Dashon Goldson suited up for his first practice Wednesday after signing a one-year, 2 million contract. Goldson is not expected to play. Reggie Smith is out after undergoing arthoscopic surgery Monday on his knee. Mays will be weaved into the defensive backfield among a group of fellow safeties that includes Chris Maragos, Curtis Taylor, Colin Jones and Anthony West. Harbaugh said he anticipates playing all four of the 49ers' quarterbacks. Behind Alex Smith and Kaepernick are undrafted rookies Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The 49ers have to decide whether they would be content to open the season with either of those players as the No. 3 quarterback.

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.