Mindi Bach

Injury-riddled 49ers ready to 'bring on the challenge' as playoff spoilers

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AP

Injury-riddled 49ers ready to 'bring on the challenge' as playoff spoilers

With Trent Brown being shut down for the remainder of the season, the 49ers have now used the injured reserve list 21 times this season. Kyle Shanahan has seen how the rash of injuries has affected his team’s development.

“You get better when the same guys play week-in and week-out. When a group of guys struggle together, if that same group is out there the next week, they have a chance to improve,” Shanahan said from the podium at his Friday media session. “I think we went through a span where it seemed each week there was a different guy here and there. I think that kind of put us on hold for a little bit. But I feel this last month or so the continuity has been a lot better. I feel that’s why we’ve gotten a little better each week. The more you can keep those same people playing next to each other, the more it helps.”

With Brown out, Zane Beadles will start for the second straight game. He’s taken snaps at all of the positions on the offensive line throughout practices this season. But he’s picking up the nuances of right tackle working in the same position for most of the last two weeks.

“The biggest thing is in pass protection you have to get depth. On the inside everything happens on the line of scrimmage. Those guys are responsible for the depth of the pocket,” Beadles explained. “At tackle, you gotta get off the ball. Those guys are flying up the field. You have a lot more space to cover. It’s a little different mentality, a little bit different physical demands, so it’s just working on those things through out the week and getting comfortable with it.”

Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney gave Beadles plenty of attention last week, and Beadles expects more of the same from the Titans.

“Bring on the challenge. That’s the way this league is,” Beadles said. “You’re going to get challenged until you prove you can get the job done.”

That also applies to whatever player is pulled up from practice squad. Cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon (knee) and Greg Mabin (calf) are questionable for Sunday’s game, and Shanahan is likely to make a move by Saturday’s 1 p.m. deadline.

The 49ers last three games are against teams still in the postseason picture, and they expect a playoff atmosphere for each of them starting on Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo is making his first start at Levi’s against a Titans team battling for the lead in the AFC South. Whatever setbacks the team has experienced through injuries this season, Shanahan sees these final three games as the biggest opportunity for its growth.

“They are going to feel an intensity from these teams, especially Tennessee on Sunday, that’s probably a little more intense than what they’ve felt from other teams throughout this year. I expect us to be the exact same way and learn from that,” Shanahan said.

“Our goal, and what we expect, is to be in that situation next year. I’d like that not to be our first time in that situation. I don’t see why our team can’t treat these three games like we’re playing for our playoff lives, too.”

'Knowledge seeker' Garry Gilliam expected to face big test in Philadelphia

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Mindi Bach

'Knowledge seeker' Garry Gilliam expected to face big test in Philadelphia

Garry Gilliam considers himself an epistemologist. It says as much on his Twitter account.

“Just a knowledge seeker. I question a lot of things. It could be anything. I’ve always been that way,” Gilliam explained from in front of his locker. “I enjoy learning.”

That includes going beyond the obvious during the offensive line meetings. The 49ers zone blocking scheme is similar to the one Gilliam played in over the last three seasons while with Seattle. But he credits head coach Kyle Shanahan for giving him a stronger understanding of the how’s and why’s in San Francisco’s system.

“A lot of times I like the deeper meaning,” Gilliam said. “The way that Kyle teaches a lot of our offense, he does that perfectly. I’ve learned a lot about football and a lot about this scheme.”

Gilliam made 33 starts for the Seahawks over the last two seasons at both tackle positions, including four starts in the playoffs. He’s expected to make his first start of the season Sunday against the Eagles as right tackle Trent Brown is still going through the concussion protocol.

“I’ve approached this game as I have every other game since I’ve been here, as if I was the starter, Gillian said. “My preparation, the way I’m getting ready for the game, the way I’ve studied, the way I’ve practiced has all been the same.”

Gilliam played tight end at Penn State before joining the big men up front his senior year. As an undrafted free agent with Seattle, he picked up valuable playing time his rookie season due to a rash of injuries. He secured starting positions in his second and third years. But Shanahan still considers Gilliam a relative newcomer to the tackle position. This weekend in Philadelphia, he may gain a stronger understanding of the 6’5”, 306-pound lineman.

“We brought him in to be a swing tackle for us and to compete with the guys not knowing exactly what we had until we got to OTAs,” Shanahan said. “He’s going to get his opportunity most likely on Sunday.”

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Kyle Shanahan is, self admittedly, not a patient person. As he watched quarterback C.J. Beathard run the scout team over the last couple of weeks -- how he visualized an unfamiliar play, went through his progressions and handled the defensive coverages -- the head coach saw rapid improvement every day. But he suppressed any urge to play the rookie before he was ready.

“I tried to wait for the right time for him and the right time for the team,” Shanahan explained.

Down 14-0 to Washington halfway through the second quarter with starter Brian Hoyer struggling, Shanahan knew Beathard’s time had come.

“I felt the team needed it right then,” Shanahan said. “It also made me more confident to do it because I thought he was ready for it, also.”

Moments after the game was over, Shanahan named Beathard the starter. Watching the game tape on the flight home only bolstered his decision.

“By no means was he perfect, missed a couple of things, but that always happens,” Shanahan said. “I thought he came in there, didn’t hesitate, competed. The moment was not too big for him. Made a few plays in rhythm, made a few off schedule plays and was a big reason we got back in that game.”

Beathard led the 49ers on two scoring drives and finished 19-of-36 with 245 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception, though it came on fourth-and-20 on his final pass attempt of the game. On his 45-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson, Beathard extended the play when the fifth year receiver wasn’t where he expected him to be.

“He was supposed to go to the post for a certain coverage, and they had a busted coverage, so he just hung out there which is why C.J. didn’t see it right away,” Shanahan explained. “We had enough protection where he could take a couple more hitches. He drove the pocket and saw where Aldrick was, and he didn’t hesitate. Made that throw with that arm strength.”

Shanahan smirked at his not-so-subtle dig at those who questioned Beathard’s arm strength during the draft process. He sees a quarterback who can make all the throws, and make them from the pocket, and scramble when he needs to. All he needs now, Shanahan contends, is experience.

“It’s about playing in the game and reacting to defenses, reacting to coverages, reacting to adjustments. He’s going to see a lot of things he hasn’t seen before, and that will change each week. It will probably change each quarter.”

Helping Beathard continue to grow through those experiences will require patience, but in this situation, it’s the kind the head coach can handle.

“You’re never going to get a quick answer. You see over time, but he’s got the ability to do it. He’s got the mental toughness to do it. I think he will get better the more he plays.”