Small sample shows Kelly's 49ers can be Year 1 of Harbaugh


Small sample shows Kelly's 49ers can be Year 1 of Harbaugh

Chip Kelly is a lucky man indeed, in that he never had to field the burning question of the night, namely:

“Since the 49ers won by the largest margin of Week 1 and also were the only team to use two quarterbacks, can we infer that there is a quarterback controversy? Oh please say yes, oh please say yes, oh please oh please oh please.”

But no, his night went so delightfully that he fielded no such idiocies, nor faced any great existential issues. His first game as 49er coach got him 28 points, cost him zero points, and unlike his Los Angeles counterpart Jeff Fisher, his short week will be a largely pleasant one.

In fact, these were his stated complaints after Monday’s 28-nil pillow-smothering of the utterly gormless Rams: The team ran the ball indifferently in the third quarter (seven carries, seven yards, all by Carlos Hyde), and his kick return defense (all two of them), which allowed the Rams to start their drives at the Los Angeles 31.

In other words, he has actually nothing of substance about which to grouse.

[RECAP: Instant Replay: 49ers' defense dominates in shutout vs Rams]

Oh, he will find some thing or things, to be sure. The 49ers handled an excruciatingly bad Rams team (or an excruciatingly badly coached, taught or motivated Rams team, choose your weaponry), and he has to convert a potentially complacent team back into a hungry and angry one against Carolina Sunday.

In other words, he has to prove that this game was not the same sackful of fool’s gold that last year’s 20-3 win over Minnesota was. In that game, the 49ers outgained the Vikings by 147 yards (against the Rams, it was 135 yards), Carlos Hyde rushed for almost twice as many yards (168-88) and Colin Kaepernick’s quarterback rating of 83 was essentially that of Blaine Gabbert’s (84.2) Monday. In sum, they were never truly threatened until . . . well, until Week 2. And then Week 3 and Week 4 and on and on and so forth and so on . . .

And therein lies the conundrum for Kelly, for his fellow coaches, the roster, the front office and the customer base: To believe that this game is not an outlier at all, but a sign that the S.S. York is again not only seaworthy but worth the bother of booking a cruise.

And there is no way of knowing that without knowing if the Rams are really as hideous as they performed. Because they were, very much so. So much so, in fact, that Fisher cited the fact that the team has had to move four times in seven months as a reason for their masterpiece of ineffectiveness. I mean, if that’s the best you can do, you have problems even HBO can’t gloss over.

But as a matter of raw data, the 49ers defense was wall-to-wall superb, holding running back Todd Gurley to a desiccated 47 yards on 17 rushes, quarterback Case Keenum to 130 yards on 17 completions in 35 attempts, and Tavon Austin, the inspiration for Fisher’s possibly ill-fated and surely oft-cited “7-9 Bulls---“ quote, caught four balls (in 13 targets) for a miserable 13 yards. The Rams averaged a hideous 3.1 yards per play, which explains why punter (10 times, in fact) Johnny Hekker put himself in contention for Player of the Week.

Indeed, the only crypto-drama of the evening, other than, say, the drunken fan who was immortalized by ESPN Radio’s Kevin Harlan, was whether Colin Kaepernick, who came in for the last 49er series of the evening, would not only take a knee before the game but one of the final play of the game.

He didn’t.

Indeed, Kaepernick was but a very minor sidelight on a night that belonged . . . well, it’s actually hard to say who it belonged to, really. Few players who weren’t Rams committed egregious errors, and in fact one of San Francisco’s two five-yard penalties came on a botched play call by Kelly. On the other hand, he converted one of two high-risk fourth down calls and gave at least some indications that he still has a swashbuckler’s soul, which is surely going to be more fun in success and failure than the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-despair offense of a year ago.

[WATCH: Kaepernick sends message to Dilfer after criticism of protest]

But again, the Rams aren’t the Panthers, the road isn’t home, and 2015 is only a bad memory away. This could be a massive false positive.

It could also be the sign of the 49ers in Kelly Year 1 – a very good defensive team that will need that defense to hide the deficiencies of an iffy offense. You know, the way they were in Harbaugh Year 1.

That’s the beauty of a small sample size – you can make it into anything you want, and have the lack of data to prove your point either way.

But what you don’t have is a quarterback controversy. Yet. And if the new 49ers still are in their larval stage, they can still fall back on that time-honored football stratagem – “If you can’t be good, you may as well start some bar fights.”

And either way, it sure as hell beats being the Rams right now.

49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks


49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks

The 49ers hosted two veteran cornerbacks on free-agent visits the past two days and could be signing either Jaylen Watkins or LaDarius Gunter as they wind down their activity on the free-agent market.

“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “I’ll never say never. We’ve had a couple of guys visit in the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ll do something there. But for the most part, we’re wrapped up and pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

The 49ers do not have much depth behind presumptive starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. The team is also likely to add to its depth in the draft.

The 49ers met with Gunter (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) on Thursday. Gunter, 25, started 15 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He recorded 54 tackles and broke up 12 passes. He signed with the Packers in 2015 as an undrafted rookie from Miami.

Gunter was waived at the beginning of last season and the Carolina Panthers claimed him. He appeared in just four games with Carolina, which did not tender him as a restricted free agent.

The 49ers on Wednesday met with Watkins, 26, a versatile defensive back who appeared in 36 games with five starts in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watkins (5-11, 195) played three snaps on defense and 17 plays on special teams in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. He entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round draft pick from Florida.

Eric Reid discusses free-agent status, 'going to consider different ways to be active'


Eric Reid discusses free-agent status, 'going to consider different ways to be active'

STANFORD – Free-agent safety Eric Reid chatted with 49ers general manager John Lynch on the sideline, then moved into position onto the field for an up-close view of his brother’s pro day workout Thursday at Stanford University.

Younger brother, Justin, is aiming to be a first-round draft pick like Eric, whom the 49ers selected with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Both football futures of the Reid brothers remain uncertain. Justin's fate will be determined on draft day. Eric Reid remains in limbo as an NFL free agent. He has not gotten any action in the first week of free agency, and the 49ers have not made him a contract offer, he said.

But Lynch said the 49ers are closely monitoring Reid’s situation. However, the organization already has three safeties they like: Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert.

“Eric played and played well for us last year,” Lynch said. “I think he’s stuck in a safety market that’s been quiet. And I would anticipate things starting to shake for him and we’ll see.

“I’d never say never. I really do think opportunities will start to come his way. We’ve been monitoring it closely and we’ll see how that shakes out.”

Reid, 26, a six-year NFL veteran, said his agent has spoken recently to “a couple of teams,” but no contracts or visits have been proposed.

Reid’s market might be impacted by his up-front role in the protests of racial inequality of the past two seasons. Reid and Colin Kaepernick were the first players to take a knee during the national anthem at the beginning of the 2016 season.

Reid said he would probably not take part in any future protests during the national anthem.

“From the beginning, Colin has been flexible,” Reid said. “He started by sitting. He changed it up. We decided to kneel. And we understand that you got to change with the times. So I’m not saying I’m going to stop being active, because I won’t. I’m just going to consider different ways to be active, different ways to bring awareness to the issues of this country to improve on.

“I don’t think it’ll be in the form of protesting during the anthem. And I said ‘during’ because it’s crazy to me that the narrative got changed to we were protesting the anthem, because that wasn’t the case. But I think we’re going to take a different approach to how to be active.”

Reid said he has no regrets. He said he is willing to deal with the consequences of how NFL teams viewed his role in the protests.

“I stand by what I’ve done,” Reid said. “I know why I’ve done it. My faith in God is the reason. I can go to sleep at night confident I did what I was called to do. I’m just gong to stay positive and keep trying to stay in shape and wait and see what happens.

“I said at the end of last season I’m OK no matter what happens.”