Mindi Bach

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

gilliam.jpg
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.”

49er players shocked, surprised at release of Bowman

49er players shocked, surprised at release of Bowman

Before Friday’s practice, Kyle Shanahan called a team meeting to tell the players NaVorro Bowman, the four time All Pro linebacker, had been released. The news caught even the most veteran players off guard.

“I’m shocked. I didn’t see the writing on the wall,” said Daniel Kilgore. The center and Bowman had been teammates for seven seasons.

“It’s tough, man. We spent a lot of time together. Our families have spent a lot of time together,” Kilgore said.

“I think everybody was pretty surprised,” added tackle Joe Staley, the longest tenured player on the 49ers. “I have nothing but positive things to say about NaVorro and the leader he’s been and the player he’s been here. He’s a great person. A hell of a teammate.”

Shanahan and John Lynch made the decision to release Bowman at the linebacker’s request. Bowman’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, contacted the general manager to discuss Bowman’s reduced playing time on Monday, following the 49ers 26-23 overtime loss to the Colts. Rookie Brock Coyle was subbed in for Bowman for a few series throughout that game. From the locker room afterward, Bowman told NBCSportsBayArea.com he knew he would be coming off the field, but in no way did he agree with the decision.

“They’re doing what they want to do, and . . . I don’t know. I don’t like it. Nobody likes coming out of the game, but I’m a team player,” Bowman said.

“They told me. But it’s hard to do that in the midst of a tough game. No player likes being taken out.”

Shanahan and Lynch met with Bowman after Thursday’s practice. The head coach intended to stick with his plan to limit Bowman’s time believing it would keep his legs fresher in a defensive scheme which, he says, requires the eight year veteran to run more and cover more ground. Bowman was not satisfied with his status and the parties began searching for a trade.

Lynch said the 49ers contacted every team in the league and had one deal in place. The trade did not appeal to Bowman. Instead, he asked for his release in order to work out his own deal with any of the 31 remaining teams. Shanahan realizes the decision may be difficult for many players on the team to understand.

“I hope they respect what our intentions are, and that no matter how hard it is, we are going to do what is best for this team,” Shanahan said. “I know whenever you are talking to a group of guys that lost a brother in that way, a good friend to everybody, it’s always a tough conversation. But I think our team, we’ve got a strong team, and I think our team will respond.”

Shanahan says Reuben Foster will move to Bowman’s ‘mike’ position, though he does not yet know if he will play against Washington this weekend. The first round draft pick returned to practice this week after missing more than a month with an ankle injury. The rookie says he learned quite a few things from Bowman in the time they were teammates.

“Toughness, pride, just different schemes, different reads, different reads that I never learned in college. It’s tough because we made a bond, and that’s my brother,” Foster said. “Just know that it’s a business, but at the end of the day it’s your heart too.”

What makes the loss of a valued teammate a bit easier is knowing Bowman has more business to tend to.

“He’s NaVorro Bowman. He’s played at an elite level his entire career, and he’s going to continue to do that wherever he goes,” Kilgore said.

Added Foster, “Wherever he’s at, wherever he goes, he’s going to do great. His career is not over with yet. Trust me.”

From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

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From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.

"He does everything at a high level.”

At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.

“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”

Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.

“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”

Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.

“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.

And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.

“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”

No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”

Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.

“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”

One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.

“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”

Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.

“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”