49ers assistant Wes Welker envisions many receivers fitting in slot role

49ers assistant Wes Welker envisions many receivers fitting in slot role

It took Wes Welker three NFL seasons and a fortuitous trade to become a game-changing prototype.

Welker was an undrafted rookie whom the San Diego Chargers cut after Week 1 of the 2004 regular season. He gained some traction with the Miami Dolphins before his career shot upward with a trade that sent him to New England in 2007.

From there, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound slot receiver became one of the game's most prolific pass-catchers. Welker made five Pro Bowls and recorded 110-or-more receptions five times over the next six seasons with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

“They were one of the first offenses to use the slot receiver on first and second down, where most offenses were doing it just on third down,” Welker, 38, the 49ers’ first-year wide receivers coach, said on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

“And really being able to take advantage of defenses that would stay in base personnel and basically try to match me up on a linebacker. New England always did a great job of trying to find those matchups.”

The game has changed over the past decade, as teams are not relying solely on a Welker-esque body type to be their slot receiver. Sure, the 49ers have Trent Taylor, who regularly draws comparisons to Welker, but the club also has Jordan Matthews (6-3, 215) running routes from the slot.

“There are certain quarterbacks that like more quick, in-and-out-of-breaks, sitting in the hole, that type of deal,” Welker said. “And some quarterbacks just like bigger targets. There are different ways, depending on what your scheme is and what the quarterback likes.

“And then also a lot of it is just having a smart guy that understands coverages and how to attack it, then using his skill set, whether it’s more bodying guys up and shoulder-punching through, or using quickness and acting like you’re breaking out and breaking in. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to it. You see both sides of it.”

Welker said he has yet to formulate a solid opinion on which style of slot receiver that 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo prefers, but he’s leaning toward the smaller, quicker player.

Welker said the 49ers’ passing game has a lot of flexibility because of the number of players who are capable of lining up in the slot.

“We have a lot of guys who can do it,” Welker said. “With all the formations and the way we move people around, I think it can be a lot of guys. I don’t think it’s just limited to Trent.”

Taylor had 43 receptions as a rookie – the same as tight end George Kittle in 2017 – before struggling with a back condition last season. Welker has been impressed with what he has seen from Taylor during organized team activities on the team's Santa Clara practice field.

“He’s been one of the bright spots in the spring and doing a really good job of winning on those choice routes and really understanding coverage and space and doing a really nice job out there,” Welker said.

Veteran addition Jordan Matthews has been impressive this spring, as he gives the 49ers a different body type out of the slot. Matthews, 26, registered eight touchdown catches in both of his first two seasons before being limited with injuries over the past three years. He signed a one-year contract with the 49ers in the offseason.

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Welker also mentioned Richie James, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis as returning players who can run routes from the slot. The team also expects to have the option of using rookie Deebo Samuel in the slot.

“The more guys you can have that can play all over the field, and we can formation people up, and do different things, can put the defense in more conflict,” Welker said.

Five 49ers to watch in Week 7: Can Washington slow down George Kittle?


Five 49ers to watch in Week 7: Can Washington slow down George Kittle?

The 49ers head across the country for an early Sunday start against Washington at FedEx Field as significant favorites in Week 7.

Not since the 49ers advanced to three consecutive NFC Championship Games with Jim Harbaugh has the club been expected to win so decisively on the road.

That is how things have changed for the 49ers through their first five games of the season. Now, they are expected to win on the road, where they went 0-8 last season. The 49ers have opened this year with road victories at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams.

Here are five important players to watch for the 49ers as they attempt to remain unbeaten and atop the NFC West through six games:

5. RB Tevin Coleman

The 49ers have reason to like their stable of running backs, as they settle into primarily a two-back attack with Coleman and Matt Breida.

Breida leads the team with 376 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per carry, but Coleman is beginning to see more action after missing 2 1/2 games with a high-ankle sprain. Coleman has been in Kyle Shanahan’s system, and it appears to be only a matter of time before he really makes his mark.

Despite a dropped pass in the end zone last week when he turned himself around, Coleman is known to have very good hands. He should provide a matchup problem for Washington because of his versatility out of the backfield.

Coleman has rushed for 165 yards on 40 rushing attempts. He has four catches for 49 yards.

4. CB Richard Sherman

Washington does not have many offensive threats, but speedy rookie receiver Terry McLaurin is one of them. McLaurin’s style is probably better suited for cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who is smaller and can run as well as anyone on the team.

But McLaurin’s young legs could provide a big challenge for Sherman, who is at his best when he can use his size and technique to take away his side of the field. McLaurin will try to keep the 49ers veteran cornerback off-balance throughout the day with his threat of getting over the top for the deep ball.

McLaurin has 23 receptions for 408 yards and five touchdowns for an offense that has sputtered with Case Keenum under center.

3. RT Daniel Brunskill

Brunskill made his first NFL start last week and held up very well in place of injured Mike McGlinchey. Brunskill surrendered just one quarterback hurry in 36 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

Brunskill and fill-in left tackle Justin Skule can make life a lot easier on themselves if they are able to help open holes for the 49ers’ running game.

If Brunskill continues to play well, he will force the 49ers to make a difficult decision. Joe Staley is due back before McGlinchey. Will the 49ers move Skule to right tackle when Staley is back or keep Brunskill where he is?

2. DL Solomon Thomas

Because most of the pieces along the 49ers’ defensive line are interchangeable, Thomas saw more playing time after nose tackle D.J. Jones exited last week with a hamstring injury.

And Thomas again will see a heavier workload in Washington with Jones ruled out of the game. Thomas saw his snap count rise last week in Los Angeles to 25 defensive plays. He used his quickness to penetrate for a sack of Rams quarterback Jared Goff.

“He’s getting better every single week,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft. “He plays his tail off. He’s doing some really good things.

“He’s only going to get better in my opinion, but I was just really excited for him because you could just see in his excitement how big of a deal that was for him. Now he just needs to stack it up, continue building off of it and keep getting better.”

[RELATED: Samuel, Jones ruled out for Week 7 vs. Washington]

1. TE George Kittle

Kittle might have been bothered by a groin injury last week in Los Angeles, but how could anyone tell? Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo directed nine passes toward Kittle, who caught eight of them for 103 yards.

The 49ers have not had to rely on anyone else in the passing game because no team has been able to slow down Kittle. Although he is not on pace to threaten his NFL-record single-season receiving yards for a tight end that he set a year ago, he still is the central focus of the team’s passing game.

Kittle has twice as many receptions and receiving yards as any other 49ers player. He has 31 catches for 338 yards and one touchdown.

But Kittle is equally effective as a blocker in the 49ers’ run-first offense. Kittle’s threat of blocking helps set up his route-running and pass-catching success. If Washington devotes too many resources to stopping Kittle, it could open the door for others on the 49ers’ offense to have a big day.

49ers injury report: Deebo Samuel, D.J. Jones out vs. Washington


49ers injury report: Deebo Samuel, D.J. Jones out vs. Washington

WASHINGTON – The 49ers will not have to think too long about which seven players to deactivate for their game Sunday against Washington.

The 49ers released their injury report before boarding their cross-country flight, and six players are listed as unavailable for the game due to injuries. Nose tackle D.J. Jones and wide receiver Deebo Samuel join the four starters – Kyle Juszczyk, Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey and Ahkello Witherspoon -- who have been out of action.

Running back Raheem Mostert is listed as questionable with a knee sprain and is expected to play.

Each team is allowed to suit up 46 players from their 53-man roster. The seventh inactive player is expected to be 49ers third-string quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has not suited up for a regular-season game this season.

Washington will be without veteran tight end Vernon Davis, a 14-year pro who played into his 10th season with the 49ers. Davis missed the two previous games with a concussion.

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49ers injury report

DT D.J. Jones (hamstring)
FB Kyle Juszczyk (knee)
T Mike McGlinchey (knee)
WR Deebo Samuel (groin)
T Joe Staley (fibula)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon (foot)

RB Raheem Mostert (knee)

Washington injury report

TE Vernon Davis (concussion)
S Deshazor Everett (ankle)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (hamstring)
G Wes Martin (chest)
RB Chris Thompson (toe)

CB Josh Norman (thigh, hand)