Patriots

CSN Bay Area: Moss drawing praise in San Francisco

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CSN Bay Area: Moss drawing praise in San Francisco

The 49ers have never had a group of wide receivers as deep and talented as the one they had sprinting around their practice field during their seven weeks of practices this offseason.Obviously, general manager Trent Baalke learned from the team's failings of last season when they were so thin at the position that the coaches did not feel comfortable putting three wideouts on the field for the NFC championship game.The 49ers should still be in good shape this season even with an injury or two or three. If everyone is healthy at the start of the season, there will some good receivers who will not win the right to suit up for regular-season games.This will be the most interesting position to watch during the course of training camp when there are a lot of reps to go around during the 49ers' marathon three-hour practices.Wide receivers
Two wideouts are at the top of the list of players who enjoyed the best offseason programs. And as the 49ers head into training camp, those two -- Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss -- are atop the depth chart.Crabtree is entering his fourth NFL season. And this was his first full offseason program without any lingering injury issues. The next hurdle is for him to suit up for the exhibition season to continue to build timing and rapport with quarterback Alex Smith. Crabtree is coming off a solid 2011 regular season, in which he led the team with 72 catches for 874 yards.He was running well, and catching well during the offseason program. Of course, I'm not going to agree with coach Jim Harbaugh that Crabtree has the best hands I've ever seen, but there is no denying his hands are outstanding. He should benefit this season from being surrounded by better receivers, including . . . Moss.When he last played in the NFL, Moss played 16 games for three different teams. He was not very productive during his stints with New England, Minnesota and Tennessee in 2010. Last year, he was "retired."
Moss declined all interview requests during the 49ers' offseason. Instead, he let others do the talking for him. And, without fail, every teammate and coach had glowing praise for the 14-year veteran. The offseason could not have gone any better for Moss.On the field, he used his long strides and 6-foot-4 height to get deep and make catches against sometimes unsuspecting defensive backs. Moss' skills should make it easy for Smith. Moss is at his best on under-thrown deep balls in which he can go up and catch the pass above defenders. The biggest question about Moss is how he will deal with adversity. Thus far, it's all been smooth sailing.Mario Manningham was the 49ers' most-expensive offseason acquisition. He left the New York Giants, where he was the No. 3 receiver, to sign a two-year contract with the 49ers. Right now, he looks to be the 49ers' No. 3 receiver.He did not stand out through most of the workouts that were open to the media for the first several weeks. But during the mandatory minicamp last week, he was greatly involved in the passing game. He made one of the better catches of the offseason when he left his feet to snare a Scott Tolzien at the sideline.If there's a word to describe the offseason of Kyle Williams, it's determined. He got back to work immediately after the disappointment of the NFC championship game, and he looked very good throughout the offseason program. There's nobody on the team that has his blend of quickness off the line of scrimmage and straight-ahead speed. He put himself into position to compete in training camp for not only a roster spot but a game-day role, too. He appears to be right there with Manningham.
Ted Ginn did not step foot on the field for a practice this offseason as he rehabs a right knee injury. Toward the end of the offseason program he looked to be nearing full speed during his workouts. The 49ers guaranteed Ginn the sum of 500,000 to sign his one-year deal. Is he guaranteed a roster spot? No, but it's difficult to imagine the 49ers would place their trust in the return game in anyone else.If the 49ers wanted to invest their first-round pick in a position that had a greater chance of making a first-year impact, it's unlikely they would've drafted a wide receiver. So look at the selection of A.J. Jenkins as an investment for future seasons. (Jenkins on Wednesday signed a four-year, 6.947 million contract, a source told CSNBayArea.com.)It'll be very difficult for him to break into the top 3, and I don't see the team's No. 4 receiver getting much action as long as everyone remains healthy.A lot was made -- yes, here and with other media outlets -- about Jenkins' physical shape during the rookie minicamp. There were only four rookie wide receivers at that camp to share in all the route-running. So there was a lot of running involved. And none of the other rookies had the kind of hectic travel schedule that Jenkins endured around the draft, including a round-trip to the Bay Area the day after he was selected at No. 30 overall. After that first practice, Jenkins' condition was never questioned again throughout the offseason.
During the team's offseason program, Jenkins did not separate himself from the pack. But this is a good group of wideouts, including three intriguing undrafted rookies. All in all, Jenkins' performance is about what should be expected.As far as first impressions, the most important thing is how a rookie handles himself and the level of commitment he demonstrates. Jenkins gets high marks in those areas. One focus was increasing his strength, and he appears to be making good strides in that area with Mark Uyeyama, the 49ers' head strength and conditioning coach.Also, the mandatory minicamp ended on a high note when Jenkins made the best reception of any receiver I saw during the dozen or so practices that were open to the media. Working against cornerback Carlos Rogers, Jenkins leaped high in the air at the back of the end zone to catch a Colin Kaepernick dart. He positioned both feet to tap inbounds before his body crashed to the ground.Brett Swain and Joe Hastings spent time on the 49ers' active roster at the end of last season. Swain and Hastings both caught a couple of passes during 11-on-11 work on the final day. Hastings has practice-squad eligibility, but he there will be plenty of competition for those spots, too.The 49ers' top target in undrafted free agency was Nathan Palmer, whom the 49ers awarded a 10,000 signing bonus. Palmer (Northern Illinois) was very solid during the entire offseason program. If his goal was to stick with Jenkins, then he succeeded. Interestingly, both Palmer and Jenkins practiced -- without much success on a windy day -- handling punts. Neither returned punts in college.Likewise, Brian Tyms did nothing to hurt his stock throughout the offseason. During the final minicamp, Tyms (Florida A&M) might have had the best day of anyone, including the veterans. He made a leaping catch of a Kaepernick pass about 30 yards downfield on the final day -- one of several above-average receptions.
Speedster Chris Owusu participated in the rookie minicamp in early-May after going undrafted. But he was not able to practice again until last week's mandatory minicamp because he was ineligible due to Stanford's late graduation. Owusu did not see enough action for much of an evaluation.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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