49ers

49ers Mailbag: Rookie RB Williams the favorite to unseat Hyde?

49ers Mailbag: Rookie RB Williams the favorite to unseat Hyde?

The 49ers begin organized team activities next week, which will give the coaching staff an extended opportunity to evaluate players before reconvening for training camp in late-July.

Here are a couple of questions submitted via Facebook about how some notable players fit into the new schemes:

Does Joe Williams have a real shot at supplanting Carlos Hyde as the starter? (Andrew Kerr)
Respected running backs coach Bobby Turner kept in touch with Williams even when he was not on the 49ers' draft board. Coach Kyle Shanahan desperately wanted Williams and convinced general manager John Lynch to reconsider Williams’ exclusion from the team’s draft plan.

The fact Turner and Shanahan campaigned for Williams speaks volumes about their plan for him. Turner and Shanahan wanted Williams. They see something in him. They know exactly how they want to use him.

So, yes, Williams has a legitimate chance to immediately unseat Hyde as the team’s top running back. Hyde is entering the final year of his contract. His first three seasons have been marked by inconsistencies and injuries that have sidelined him for 14 games.

The better player wins the job, and Williams has the distinct advantage of being the running back Turner and Shanahan hand-picked to fit their scheme.

Is Arik Armstead's future in jeopardy because he doesn't have a real position? (Joe Ruckus Marsh)
Solomon Thomas is a good fit at the “big end” position. Veteran Earl Mitchell appears to be the logical choice at nose tackle. And DeForest Bucker is expected to line up at the other interior position along the 49ers’ defensive line.

So that leaves Armstead at the pass-rush end spot in the 49ers’ new 4-3 defense. Right now, it appears he will compete with Aaron Lynch and others for that position.

If Armstead is not capable of playing the “Leo” position up to the specifications of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, then Armstead most likely becomes a high-priced backup to Thomas and Buckner. Lynch has said he believes Armstead is capable of playing three spots along the line. It’s just a matter of finding the intersection of where he is best-suited and where he is most needed.

Armstead is in a similar position to Hyde and some other returning players. He is no longer on scholarship as a high draft pick. John Lynch and Shanahan could not care less where he was drafted. He has to show more urgency and earn his role on the team.

Where 'The Catch,' 'Immaculate Reception' should stand in NFL history

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AP/USATSI

Where 'The Catch,' 'Immaculate Reception' should stand in NFL history

The Bay Area was on the wrong side of one of the most iconic plays in NFL history, and the right side of another. 

The Raiders remained stuck in the marital party rather than matrimony when Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" gave the upstart Pittsburgh Steelers a 13-7 win over the Silver and Black in the 1972 AFC Divisional Round. The loss in Pittsburgh was coach Jon Madden's third consecutive in the conference playoffs, and the legendary coach would lose three consecutive AFC championships before winning Super Bowl XI -- the Raiders' first. The Steelers would not win the Super Bowl or the year after, but the victory over the Raiders was Chuck Noll's first in the postseason and marked the first of eight straight playoff berths for the team that would define the 1970s. 

Just shy of a decade later, the 49ers kick-started their dynasty with another catch against an iconic franchise. Dwight Clark's 6-yard touchdown reception from Joe Montana, known simply as "The Catch," sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl berth -- and their first of five wins. Clark's game-winning back-of-the-end-zone grab against the Dallas Cowboys has been immortalized with a pair of statues outside Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, and marks the true turning point in San Francisco's dynastic era. 

NFL Media recently ranked "The Immaculate Reception" and "The Catch" No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on its list of 100 greatest plays in NFL history. It's hard to think of two more iconic moments, but is that the right order? Let's examine the case for each play. 

The case for 'The Immaculate Reception'

Is it possible to imagine this play without NFL Films' "Classic Battle" playing underneath or John Facenda's voice? Yet, the iconic shot of Harris catching Terry Bradshaw's ricocheted pass intended for John Fuqua inches before it hit the ground has done nothing to dispel the controversy surrounding the play. 

Officials ultimately determined that the ball deflected off of hard-hitting Raiders safety Jack Tatum and into the arms of Harris following Bradshaw's desperate fourth-and-10 heave, thus making the catch legal. Had they ruled Fuqua only touched it, it would have been an illegal catch on the last play of the game, and the Raiders would have moved on and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. 

Iconic, improbable imagery and an ahead-of-its time officiating controversy? "The Immaculate Reception" really is the NFL bottled down to its essence, containing the perfect combination of components that keep football fans coming back -- with plenty of grievances. 

The case for 'The Catch'

There have been a lot of catches in NFL history, but there is only one "Catch." Well, unless you're a 49ers fan counting Terrell Owens and Vernon Davis' playoff game-winning touchdown grabs as proper sequels. 

"The Catch" has only been aided by time. The 49ers won four more Super Bowls after winning their first two weeks following the win over Tom Landry and the Cowboys. For the rest of his illustrious career, Landry would not win more games (12) than he did in the 1981 season and he would not lose by a closer margin in a playoff game than the one-point defeat in the NFC championship. Had the 49ers not won, it's possible Landry's Cowboys dynasty would have found second life against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI, setting off all sorts of hypotheticals over the ensuing decades.

Meanwhile, Joe Montana went on to become one of, if not the most iconic quarterback in NFL history, and "The Catch" tops the list of his iconic moments. His John Candy-inspired game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII and dominant fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles months later are all well and good, but "The Catch" truly is when he -- and Clark -- became legends in the Bay Area and beyond. 

[RELATED: How AB's Raiders-to-Patriots could cost him $29M]

Verdict

You could flip a coin on these two plays and come up with the right answer. But for our money, "The Catch" gets the edge for its impact on NFL history. 

Had "The Immaculate Reception" gone the other way, the Raiders' eventual Super Bowl coronation likely would have had to wait, anyway. The Steelers lost in the 1972 AFC Championship Game to the Miami Dolphins who, as we are reminded each and every season, is the only team in the Super Bowl era to win all of its regular-season and playoff games. The Steelers would also need to wait another two seasons before winning their first Super Bowl. 

"The Catch," meanwhile, truly began the 49ers' reign over the 1980s. If it had gone the other way, does that ever truly begin? Do the Bengals knock off "America's Team" in the ensuing Super Bowl, ending their status as one of the NFL's preeminent sad-sack franchises? If the Cowboys win, does that buy Landry time with Jerry Jones? Does Jones still buy the team? 

Clark's touchdown reception marked a turning point for the 49ers and the rest of the NFL. For that reason, "The Catch" gets the narrow edge. 

49ers injury report: Game-time decision if Dee Ford will play vs. Steelers

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AP

49ers injury report: Game-time decision if Dee Ford will play vs. Steelers

Defensive end Dee Ford is feeling better after sitting out the second half of the 49ers’ game last week against the Cincinnati Bengals with discomfort in his knee and quadriceps, coach Kyle Shanahan said.

“Hopefully, he’ll be feeling good on Sunday,” Shanahan said. “He said he felt good. He looked good walking through. But I know that’ll go all the way up to Sunday.”

Ford, who is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, sat out practices Wednesday and Thursday. He was scheduled to take part in limited practice on Friday, but the 49ers dialed back their planned practice to a walk-through at their Santa Clara facility because of the high intensity of the practices earlier in the week.

“I know he’s feeling better now than he has the last few days, but he’s still not fully there, yet,” Shanahan said of Ford. “We’ll see how these last 48 hours go. Hopefully, they go well. If it does, I know he feels confident to go out there, especially with time off the following week.”

The 49ers face the Steelers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. After the game, the club will have a bye week before returning to action on Monday, Oct. 7, against the Cleveland Browns.

Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa (ankle), and safeties Jaquiski Tartt (toe) and Jimmie Ward (hand) are also listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Bosa and Tartt are expected to play, while Ward is likely to miss his third consecutive game to open the season.

Shanahan said he expects rookie wide receiver Jalen Hurd to be available after the bye week. Hurd has sat out five weeks with a back condition.

“He’s on track,” Shanahan said of Hurd. “We’ll see how it is once we get back from the bye week. I know he has a lot of work to do when we all get away from here a little bit for the four days. It’ll be big the work he puts in when we’re away. We expect him to be ready when we get back.”

The 49ers will not have the services of wide receiver Trent Taylor for at least eight weeks after he underwent surgery to repair a Jones fracture on his right foot. The bone has healed, Shanahan said, but there were issues with some of the soft tissue around the bone on the outside of his foot that has caused a flareup. Taylor is eligible to return to action on Nov. 17 against the Arizona Cardinals.

[RELATED: 49ers place Taylor on IR, re-sign Young]

The 49ers placed Taylor on injured reserve and signed veteran offensive tackle Sam Young. Shanahan said he does not think Young will be active and in uniform for Sunday’s game.

49ers injury report

OUT
RB Tevin Coleman (ankle)
WR Jalen Hurd (back)
OT Joe Staley (leg)
WR Trent Taylor (foot) – injured reserve

Questionable
DE Dee Ford (quadriceps
S Jaquiski Tartt (toe)
DE Nick Bosa (ankle)
DB Jimmie Ward (hand)

Steelers injury report

OUT
FB Roosevelt Nix (knee)
LB Vince Williams (hamstring)
LB Anthony Chickillo (foot)